Daren Tang of Singapore has been chosen to lead the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), heading off China’s bid for a fifth top United Nations post.
In a hotly contested run-off, Tang defeated Wang Binyingexternal link in a closed-door vote by dozens of states to become WIPO director general, which oversees global rules for patents and intellectual property.
The WIPO General Assembly will now meet on May 7-8 to formally approve the nomination by its coordination committee.
In a second and final round of voting by the 83 members of WIPO's committee, which included Switzerland, Tang won 55 votes versus 28 for Wang.
Intellectual property has been at the centre of a trade war between China and the United States, which along with other Western countries and Japan backed Tang.
“We are very pleased with the election outcome,” said Andrew Bremberg, US ambassador to the UN in Geneva.
“We believe that today’s overwhelming vote was a clear demonstration of the importance of protecting intellectual property and the entire independence of WIPO in the international community,” he added.
The contest had intensified in recent weeks. The Chinese government had accused Washington of waging a campaign to "smear" its country.
After the vote Chinese ambassador Chen Xu was more measured. "This is not a defeat," he said.
The vote had been viewed as a challenge to China’s attempt to head another UN agency and influence global institutions. Chinese nationals already lead four out of the 15 biggest UN agencies, more than any other member state: The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Industrial Development Organization and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
Under outgoing Director-General Francis Gurry of Australia, WIPO has witnessed a huge rise in patent filings and has begun talks on whether artificial intelligence, or machines, can be inventors.
If validated, Tang, who heads Singapore's intellectual property office, will head the institution for six years from the beginning of October. He will become the first Singaporean to head a UN agency.