Did Jiabao Promise the UN to India?

Posted in China | 26-Apr-05 | Author: Siddharth Srivastava

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

NEW DELHI: Did he or did he not? Opinions are firmly divided over China’s support of India’s desire to gain a permanent seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC), consequent to the visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to India. One shade of opinion is that the joint statement issued after the meeting of Jiabao with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the categorical reiteration during Jiabao’s press conference Tuesday makes it apparent that China is very serious about extending its support to India.

The other opinion is that both the statements are very similar (thus making it obvious that the words are measured) and very general, without clarifying the specifics of how China is going to go about supporting India. Jiabao said: "China reiterates that we attach great importance to the important role of India in international affairs. We fully understand and support India's aspirations to play an even bigger role in international affairs including the UN."

Jiabao expressed his support for India on UNSC in a manner very similar to the support declared by Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan when he visited India in October 2004. There is no clarity on the key issues of veto power or the process of expansion of the UN. Just recently, China's UN Ambassador Wang Guangya told the General Assembly that while China shared UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's concern that the current situation needed an overhaul, it could not endorse the formula for change (as suggested by Annan to be decided by September this year), and would resist any quick action.

"China is not in favor of setting an artificial time limit for Council reform and forcing through any immature proposals lacking consensus in the form of a vote. If consensus is not immediately reachable, they should continue. The temptation to force a decision at the summit must be resisted." Wang's insistence on consensus is the same argument put forward by the US (which is also opposing reform to the UN) and a direct affront to Annan, who has said that while consensus among the 191 UN member states was "very preferable, failure to obtain it must not become the excuse for postponing action."

As things stand, Washington and Beijing have for now blocked any attempt by India (as well as the three other major aspirants, Germany, Japan and Brazil making up what is called the Group of Four) to secure entry into the UNSC. A "consensus" is considered nearly impossible in the 191-member General Assembly and a virtual turn towards endless rounds of discussions with no definitive conclusion. India, Germany and other countries want a time-bound vote in the General Assembly on this issue that has been debated for over 10 years.

Indian foreign ministry officials, however, say that they have reason to believe that China will in the near future back its pledge to India by concrete action in the high forum of the UN. India’s Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said Monday that there was a definite "forward movement" in China’s position and New Delhi had "every reason to be satisfied" with China’s assertion that it would be "happy" to see India in the UNSC.

However, commentators such as Manoj Joshi of the Hindustan Times have argued otherwise. China has said that it supports India’s bid to the UNSC, but when it has come to the specifics, both China and the US have been at the forefront against reforms. Thus, strictly going by what exists on paper it is adding billions to the Sino-Indian trade figures. In the interest of business, military skirmishes, of course, remain a strict no-no.

This is in keeping with the tenor of how China wants its relationship with India to develop, some observers have said. While it is true that India and China have come a long way since the war in 1962 followed by frigid relations in the 70s and 80s, the happy interludes in such vexed issues as re-drawing the borders between the two countries have endured because of the eagerness to capitalize on each other's economic strength -- manufacturing, hardware, software and services.

The status quo of the 1993 agreement has been retained over the border question post the Manmohan-Jiabao meeting. For the first time, China has acknowledged Sikkim to be a part of India but large regions in western and northeastern India remain in the realm of disagreement, with China refusing to provide maps of the line of actual control along the western sector. Some Indian officials maintain that the Chinese approach is to keep border negotiations deliberately de-focused with no immediate resolution in the near future.

While both countries have been following pragmatic diplomacy, it is accompanied with a tremendous increase in business relations between the two countries. This is due to the internal dynamism in India and China consequent to the change in economic structures, with both nations embracing capitalism with jest. However, it is to the credit of the Indian and Chinese dispensation that diplomatic relations have not been allowed to impinge on economic matters, unlike India and Pakistan wherein the flurry of border chaos and terrorist activity has not allowed the two economies to flourish in tandem.

Indeed, Sino-Indian relations have followed a path of high rhetoric including such formulations as Hindi-Chini bhai bhai (Indians and Chinese are brothers, though India and China went to war subsequently in 1962); Panchsheel (five principles of peaceful co-existence) and Jiabao’s assertion that the world will take note when he and Manmohan shake hands is in the same spirit of grand statements in the past -- Hu Jintao telling Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2003 that Sino-Indian cooperation could turn the 21st Century into an "Asian century" and harking back even further to the mid-80s when Deng Xiaoping told Rajiv Gandhi that the 21st Century would become an Asian era only if China and India would cooperate.

However, India is always wary of China’s military ambitions including those in the Indian Ocean region as well as the strong military relations with Pakistan that date back over five decades. India’s foreign secretary, Shyam Saran, stated after the Jiabao-Manmohan meeting on Tuesday that the India-China "strategic and cooperative partnership" was not a military alliance and not directed at any third country. Prior to his visit to India, Jiabao was in Pakistan when the joint production of the JF-17 fighter aircraft, a project that was initiated because of the hitherto ban on F-16 fighters by the US, commenced. Jiabao also spoke of joint nuclear energy production, making it apparent that China’s security concerns for the region still veer against India and towards a militarily strong Pakistan.

As far as UN reforms are concerned, the negotiations will be protracted. Ramesh Thakur, senior vice rector at the UN university in Tokyo who has researched extensively on UN reforms, has 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 5 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.

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist