Four high profile visits, one theme
NEW DELHI: In the recent past, India has been host to four top dignitaries of the world --- Chinese premiere Wen Jiabao, UN secretary general Kofi Annan, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Apart from issues of business and security, the politics of the region is being played out by the Indo-Japanese bid for UN reforms.
As matters stand and emphasized by Annan the question of conceding veto powers by the permanent members of the UN Security Council remains a long-shot. Annan was categorical on veto rights. He said many wanted removal of the exclusive rights of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), it was not possible to do so; therefore, status quo had to be kept.
India has been zealously pursuing its place in the UNSC forming part of Manmohan Singh’s priority agenda. Last year Singh addressed the UN General Assembly and lobbied for a UNSC seat for India. New Delhi now has reciprocal arrangements with other nations seeking a permanent seat. Brazil, Germany and Japan are also pressing to join the current five veto-wielding members of the Security Council -- the USA, Britain, France, Russia and China. India and Japan have agreed to back each other rather than contest against each other, thus increasing each others’ chances. India claims a seat on the basis of its huge population, growing economy and contribution to the various activities of the United Nations.
However, in the UN bid the four nations in the fore, India, China, Japan and USA find themselves in a curious bind. The situation has been made piquant by tensions between Japan and China while Sino-Indian relations move towards a higher trajectory. US has supported Japan’s bid for a UN seat in the past, while China will have nothing of it. China has gone on record to support India, while the US has never supported India’s candidature. With Japan and India coordinating their UN bid and China keen on blocking Japan, the net result could be a negative effect on India. But, India cannot hope for the crucial US support unless Japan remains in the fold.
While Jiabao said that India should play a broader role in the UN, the US is more upfront about its views in the matter. US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in her recent visit to India made it quite apparent that the Indian aspiration for a greater role in international affairs would be better served not through reform of the United Nations but other multi-lateral initiatives. USA has never openly backed India in order not to annoy Pakistan, given its strategic role in the ``war against terror.’’
China vehemently opposes any truck to Japan even as Beijing witnessed ugly protests over Japan's refusal to apologize for the abridged version of the ferocious Sino-Japanese war of 1937 to 1945 in the latest issues of eight school textbooks that were officially approved April 5.
Meanwhile, the three nations (USA, Japan, China) want to build the momentum of business relations with India given the opportunities in hand --- Sino-Indian trade crossed $ 13 billion, Indo-Japan trade is close to $ 4.5 billion with potential while US has just pulled off a $ 7 billion Boeing deal with India and looking for more, especially in the sales of arms. Though, observers say that in the short-run the momentum of positive business relations will carry through individual relations, a long-term re-alignment will have to be worked out. China making up with Japan is unlikely, so are India’s chances in the UN without Japan. Thus during Jiabao’s visit the shadow of Indo-Japanese relations loomed, while during Koizumi’s visit the China factor was very much in play.
A comment in The Times of India reads: ``If Japan intruded on the Sino-Indian table during Wen Jiabao's visit earlier this month, it was China's turn to be the invisible third at the strategic partnership of India and Japan. Japan's wooing of India comes at a time when Japan and China are looking at continued tensions and India and China are on the fast track to a partnership. India and Japan spent time coordinating positions on their joint UN Security Council bid. It is here that the ongoing Japan-China tussle could have a deleterious effect for India. China is set on Japan staying out of the UNSC, but the US has supported only Japan's bid. India's alliance with Japan means that it will have to run the gauntlet of Chinese resistance.’’
The issue is indeed complex, as each aspiring country faces strong opposition from within its own continent. Argentina opposes Brazil's bid, Italy that of Germany, South Korea points to Japan's occupation of its territory in World War II, while India has had to contend with Pakistan, which insists that the Jammu and Kashmir issue be resolved first. With the latest enunciation of views, reforms in the UN is not only a matter of regional apprehensions, but the two most powerful nations holding onto the status quo.
Experts have been saying that the negotiations will be protracted despite Indian efforts. Ramesh Thakur, senior vice rector at the UN university in Tokyo who has researched extensively on UN reforms, has recently written that opposition to UNSC reform comes from three groups: those with a vested interest in the status quo, especially the permanent members; the regional rivals of each of the leading candidate countries (Pakistan against India, China against Japan, Italy against Germany, Argentina against Brazil); and a large group who would see their status diminished still further with the growth of permanent members, from the present five to 11. All three groups, he says, have found it expedient to adopt the tactic of divide-and-rule, convincing the leading contenders to compete with one another. Only very recently, he said, have Brazil, Germany, India and Japan woken up to the realization that either they will all become permanent members in one major round of reforms, or none of them will.
Given the recent proclivities of USA (including removing of military sanctions) towards India, New Delhi was within its rights to think that reforms in the UN could be ironed out. However, with USA and China blocking attempts by India, Japan and Germany to enter the UNSC, the writing in on the wall --- that when it comes to ceding power in the politics of global power play, neither USA nor China would be willing to give in. Clearly, the problem, it would seem, is about the powers of the world not loosening the control that they exercise in matters of global war and peace.
(Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist)