China ‘supports’ India’s enhanced role at UN

(This report was published in DNA edition dated November 10, 2010.)

Venky Vembu

China on Tuesday stuck to non-committal but positive-sounding formulation on US President Barack Obama’s support for India’s candidacy of permanent membership of the UN Security Council, saying that it “understands and supports” India’s eagerness to play a bigger role at the world body.

China is “willing to maintain contacts and negotiate with other UN member-states, including India”, on reforming the UN and the Security Council, the official news agency Xinhua quoted the foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei as saying. China supports “rational and necessary” reform of the Security Council. 

China values the role India plays in international affairs, and is in favour of prioritising an enhancement in the representation that developing countries have on the Security Council, Hong added. China hopes that the process of arriving at a consensus on the reforms would be conducted democratically and the negotiations would proceed patiently so as to “narrow differences”, maintain solidarity and bring “mutual benefits”.

Asked about US support for India’s membership at the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and other agencies, Hong said that countries should respect their international obligation to nuclear non-proliferation.

Chinese academicians sounded a positive note on Obama’s announcement on US support for India’s aspiration for permanent membership. “It is good that the US now supports India’s candidacy,” Fudan University professor Shen Dingli told DNA. “The US should have done this a long time ago.”

However, he added, efforts to reform the UN Security Council will not succeed for at least the next 15 years. Earlier efforts to reform the Council had failed – principally because the US “did not want reforms,” he said.

Asked if, in his opinion, India was a responsible global player, Shen noted that India was “a responsible actor in its own way.” In any case, he added, “a country doesn’t need to be fully responsible to be a permanent member of the Council… The US invaded Iraq, but hasn’t been deprived of its permanent membership.”

The Chinese position is for now non-committal and abides by the formula they’ve invoked for some time now, points out Srikanth Kondapalli, professor in Chinese Studies at the Centre for East Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “But the Chinese are quick to respond to ground realities if they are shifting.”

Kondapalli points to “contextual signals” that indicate China’s thinking on India’s aspiration for permanent membership. “For one thing, the Chinese ambassador to India has been elevated to the rank of Vice Foreign Minister, on par with China’s ambassadors to other UN Security Council permanent member-countries.” That, to him, signals that in Chinese perception, India had been elevated to a “P5 plus 1 level”; these are signals “we cannot ignore.”

China might eventually offer its support in exchange for some appropriate concessions from India, the nature of which could range from territorial issues to cooperation on multilateral forums, such as in Copenhagen, says Kondapalli. The next cue could come when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visits India in December.

Related reading
China is edgy about India’s rise as an East Asian power
‘Don’ be a pawn for US’:
Advice to India from Shen Dingli,  executive dean of the Institute of International Studies and the director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Obama’s visit marks the end of India’s innocence
Over here, Mr Obama, you can still win

Light a Diwali diya, Obama
Interview with Stephen P. Cohen,
senior fellow at Brookings Institution
Obama won’t seek high-profile role in Kashmir‘: Interview with Lisa Curtis,  South Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation.
Is India a tiger or a pussy-cat?
Politically immature Asia needs the US to stay engaged‘: Interview with Simon SC Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs

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About Venky

Journalist, blogger, amused observer of worldly goings-on... More about me here.
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8 Responses to China ‘supports’ India’s enhanced role at UN

  1. Pingback: Obama’s visit marks the end of India’s innocence | It's only words…

  2. Pingback: Over here, Mr Obama, you can still win | It's only words…

  3. Hariharan says:

    First off, China says it “understands” and not “understands and supports” India’s enhanced role at the UN. Avoiding extrapolation is expected with good journalism which you seem to be capable of. Anyway, don’t read too much into it. That is just diplomatic speak for “We’ll see about that.”

    Here’s an excerpt from Nicholas Kristof’s blog — “Obama Nudges India To Lead”
    http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/08/obama-nudges-india-to-lead/

    The headlines about the Obama speech have mostly been about his backing for a permanent Indian seat on the U.N. Security Council. I think that was a throwaway line. It just won’t happen. People have been talking about the need for reform of the Security Council for decades, because it’s ridiculous that membership is based on who won World War II. But just because something is ridiculous doesn’t mean it’s possible to change it. The existing Perm Five mostly resist change that would dilute their influence: why on earth would France want to give up such an important source of global power? And this isn’t something that Obama is going to use his political capital to push for. So it’s a nice applause line in Delhi, but don’t expect more.

    He ends with, “Given its experience and place in the world, India has credibility and moral and political capital, and it should use them.”

    IMO, it is pertinent upon Indian diplomats and journalists (minus Roy) to proudly project India’s great credibility, and enviable moral and political capital, instead of projecting India as China’s little hand-holding brother, even if that may be partially true in some respects, in terms of Orwellian doublethink.

    Interestingly, Indian journalists have also largely kept mum that it was Nehru who supported the PRC replacing Taiwan as one of the five permanent members in 1971, and it is China’s turn now to unequivocally reciprocate support. Geopolitically it doesn’t have other neutralization options left in its efforts to keep India in “low-level equilibrium” for too long.

    • Venky says:

      @Hariharan
      You say: “First off, China says it ‘understands’ and not ‘understands and supports’ India’s enhanced role at the UN. Avoiding extrapolation is expected with good journalism.”

      No extrapolation here. Here is the Xinhua report on Hong Lei’s press conference. It clearly quotes him as saying “China understands and supports India’s willingness to play a bigger role at the UN”.

      This is a news report, not an opinion column, which is why I stuck to “reporting” the news; I’m very particular about maintaining the distinction. But even here, I’ve noted that these are formulaic pronouncements that are “non-committal”.

  4. Hariharan says:

    And here’s what Thomas Friedman of the “The World is Flat” fame had to say:

    Don’t believe everything you read in the paper. Take this headline that appeared a couple weeks ago, when I was in New Delhi, in The Hindustan Times: “U.S. Not Seeking to Contain China: Clinton.” It was referring to a statement made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton while on a swing through Asia. No, Washington is not trying to contain China the way we once did the Soviet Union, but President Obama didn’t just spend three days in India to improve his yoga.

    His visit was intended to let China know that America knows that India knows that Beijing’s recent “aggressiveness,” as one Indian minister put it to me, has China’s neighbors a bit on edge. None of China’s neighbors dare mention the C-word — containment — in public. Indeed, none of them want to go there at all or intend to promote such a policy. But there’s a new whiff of anxiety in the Asian air.

    All of China’s neighbors want China to know, as the sign says: “Don’t even think about parking here.” Don’t even think about using your growing economic and military clout to just impose your claims in border disputes and over oil-rich islands in the South China Sea. Because, if you do, all of China’s neighbors will be doomed to become America’s new best friends — including India.

    That’s why each one of China’s neighbors is eager to have a picture of their president standing with Secretary Clinton or President Obama — with the unspoken caption that reads: “Honestly, China, we don’t want to throttle you. We don’t want an Asian cold war. We just want to trade and be on good terms. But, please, stay between the white lines. Don’t even think about parking in my space because, if you do, I have this friend from Washington, and he’s really big. … And he’s got his own tow truck.”

    I’d call this “pre-containment” or “containment-lite” — triggered in the last year by a sudden upsurge in China’s assertion of claims to all of the South China Sea. It marks a stark contrast to the mood in the region just two years ago. As Christian Caryl, a contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine, noted in an Aug. 4 essay: China for years was being praised by Asian experts for being so shrewd, so clever, so deft, in building cultural and economic ties with all its neighbors — and outmaneuvering the stupid, oafish Americans. But in just six months, China has cast itself in the role of bully and prompted its neighbors to roll out the red carpets for Uncle Sam.

    “In recent months,” noted Caryl, “Beijing has elevated its claims to territory in the South China Sea to the level of a ‘core national interest’ on par with Tibet or Taiwan, and that has sparked considerable anger among the other countries in the region — including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam — that claim ownership of pieces of the sea. … Then, just in case the Americans and the Southeast Asians still didn’t get the message, the Chinese Navy staged large-scale maneuvers in the sea, deploying ships from all three of its fleets. Admirals watched as the ships fired off volleys of missiles at imaginary enemies — all of it shown in loving detail by Chinese television.”

    China has also muscled Vietnam into halting its oil exploration in what Beijing claimed were Chinese territorial waters and forced Japan to release a Chinese fishing boat captain, who was arrested after a collision with two Japanese coast guard vessels near disputed islands in the East China Sea. China got its way with Japan by halting China’s exports to Japan of rare earth elements crucial for advanced manufacturing.

    “With the Chinese Communist Party increasingly dependent on the military to maintain its monopoly on power and ensure domestic order, senior military officers are overtly influencing foreign policy,” wrote Brahma Chellaney, a defense analyst at Delhi’s Center for Policy Research.

    But the Indians, like their fellow Asians, really do not want to go beyond containment-lite with China — for now. Sure India and China are at odds over borders and Pakistan, but China is now India’s largest trading partner.

    Also, never forget that Indian foreign policy has a long history of nonalignment. “Until a year ago, the big Indian debate was how do we deal with American hegemony,” said the Indian strategist C. Raja Mohan. Many of India’s older elites still fear U.S. “imperialism” and “neo-Liberalism.”

    And, finally, says the Indian defense analyst Kanti Basu: “Deep down, the Indians who pay attention in the strategic community sense that the Chinese are rising and the Americans are fading — and it doesn’t look like the Americans are going to fix their problems any time soon.” So don’t bet the silverware on America.

    No, India is not going to jump into America’s arms. But we’re not asking it to. Democracy, geopolitics, geography and economics are all combining to move America and India closer together. And that’s a good thing for both. If China plays it smart, Indian-American relations will never go beyond pre-containment. But if China doesn’t play it smart, Obama to India could one day become the new Nixon to China: my enemy’s enemy is my new best friend.

    • Venky says:

      @Hariharan I greatly appreciate your comments here, and your efforts to take the debate forward. But I do have one request: as a blogger yourself, you know the rules of the game for posting comments; please don’t copy-paste entire articles in the comments space. A simple link will suffice, with a lead-in. Besides, it is a violation of others’ copyrights. In the hope that you will understand.

  5. Hariharan says:

    Brahma Chellaney is a professor of Strategic Studies at Centre for Policy Research. His hyperboles on China are as good as mine! Bookmark his blog: http://chellaney.spaces.live.com/

  6. Pingback: Round-up: Barack Obama’s India visit | It's only words…

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