November 28, 2011

India’s bid for UN Council seat

China should reciprocate a past gesture
by Rup Narayan Das

ADDRESSING the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly which concluded recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated India’s stance for a stronger and effective UN system and emphasised the need for pursuing with renewed vigour an early reform of the Security Council. He raised the issue again at the fifth India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) summit at Pretoria. It may be mentioned in this context that besides other factors, the support of the permanent five members of the Security Council (the P-5) is essential for India’s bid to be a member of the Council. Four of the P-5 — the US, Russia, the United Kingdom and France — have already extended their support to India in various ways.

Although success for India will be a long-drawn process, the role of China, which has categorically not extended its support for India’s cause as yet, is crucial. The Chinese stand has been that it attaches great importance to India’s position as a major developing country in international affairs and that it supports India’s aspirations to play a greater role in the United Nations, including in the Security Council. Beijing in various bilateral and multilateral communiqués has reiterated its position from time to time but without a firm commitment.

Recently, however, there were indications that China might consider India’s candidature for a seat at the UN high table. For example, when CPM leader Sitaram Yechury met Chinese leader and state councillor Dai Bingguo on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, he reportedly said that China had no objection to India becoming a permanent member of the Security Council, but not as a part of G-4 which comprises Japan, Germany and Brazil besides India. While such favourable articulation by China about India’s bid for the Council’s membership is reassuring for New Delhi, some of the leading Chinese scholars have also been voicing their support for India’s aspirations.

In an article in the Sunday supplement of a leading English daily, Shen Dingli, a distinguished Chinese scholar from Fudan University, wrote that India deserved a seat commensurate with its rise, and that its attempt “merits China’s consideration”. He further wrote that “India gaining that seat should enhance the representation of the developing countries in the world system, which has long been a tenant of Chinese foreign policy.”

Shen Dingli, who is also the Vice-President of the Chinese Association of South-Asian Studies, has been a strong advocate of Sino-Indian reconciliation.

In this context, it is worthwhile to recall India’s advocacy of China for a membership of the UN at a very critical time in its history when China had not risen to its present international stature and didn’t have enough friends to espouse its cause. India was one of the first Asian countries which supported a resolution for the admission of the People’s Republic of China to the UN. The resolution was moved by the then Soviet Union in the Security Council to unseat the erstwhile KMT regime of Taiwan. The government’s advocacy for China’s entry into the UN system was supported by various political parties, cutting across party lines.

However, the issue of China’s bid to become a member of the UN got entangled with the unfolding of the Korean crisis in 1950. The Korean war broke out in June 1950, and a crisis also erupted in Tibet. This in turn led to some rethinking in India with regard to its China policy. India, however, voted for the UN resolution criticising North Korea’s aggression against South Korea and urged for the withdrawal of the Korean forces. However, India was of the opinion that no settlement of the East Asian imbroglio would be durable and permanent without China’s acquiescence. Articulating India’s position on the Korean crisis in the Lok Sabha, Nehru unambiguously said on August 3, 1950, that China’s entry into the UN might well have prevented the emergence of the Korean problem. Nehru also took up the issue of China’s admission to the UN system with Stalin and US Secretary of State Dean Acheson.

In spite of differences of opinion among the members of Parliament in their understanding and approach to the Korean problem, they largely supported the government’s advocacy of China’s entry into the UN system to normalise the situation in the Korean peninsula. Piloting a debate on international affairs on December 6, 1950, Nehru affirmed the government’s policy on China’s claim to the UN membership. Defending the government’s decision for opposing the UN resolution on endorsing the crossing of the 38th Parallel, he argued that China viewed this as a grave danger to its own security and that it was fraught with the danger of precipitating the situation.

He said, “We had perhaps rather special responsibility in regard to China, because we were one of the very few countries represented there, and we were the only country, apart from the countries of the Soviet group, which could find out through its ambassador what the reactions of the Chinese Government were to the developing events.”

When the Korean crisis deteriorated after the UN forces transgressed the 38th Parallel and China militarily intervened in the conflict, this impelled India to find a diplomatic solution to the impasse. These developments found their echo in Parliament as well. Members cutting across party lines expressed grave concerns. In pursuance of the policy envisaged by Nehru, India opposed the UN resolution branding the People’s Republic of China as an aggressor because of its involvement in the Korean war. Speaking in Parliament on February 12, 1951, he described the resolution as unwise and proposed a negotiated settlement of the impasse.

Thus, India from the very beginning has been adopting a nuanced approach in the case of China, extending its steadfast support to Beijing at a very critical juncture in its history. It is time Beijing returned these gestures in equal measure, particularly at a time when India’s stature has gone up considerably. Now with India joining China in seeking Pakistan’s entry into the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member, both China and Pakistan should jointly support India’s bid for a permanent seat at the Council. The mismatch in the UN system should be corrected by bringing India to the high table. This will also help in realising the dream of the 21st century as an Asian century.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

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