(This article, speculating on China’s likely strategy in response to US President Barack Obama’s announcement of US support for India’s candidacy as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, was published in DNA edition dated November 14, 2010 as part of a package. The other elements of the package can be accessed here and here. And over here, you can access all of my articles on Obama’s visit to India.)
For India, the road to a ‘promised’ seat at the high table of global governance is littered with formidable obstacles. Apart from the sheer logistical nightmare of marshalling support for UN reforms from two-thirds of the General Assembly members and then have the proposal ratified by their respective parliaments, including those of the five permanent members of the Security Council, there are geostrategic landmines to navigate.
Pakistan, consumed by bitterness over the de-hyphenation of US relations with India and itself, has said it will lobby China, one of five veto-empowered permanent members (P-5) of the Security Council, to spike India’s bid. And since China is the only P-5 member not to have articulated its support for India’s candidacy – beyond a few anodyne statements that it “understands India’s aspirations” for a bigger role at the UN – analysts wonder if it might wield the veto or otherwise game the system to spite its trans-Himalayan neighbour with whom it has an unresolved border dispute and a fitfully tenuous relationship.
“While the obvious opposition came from Pakistan, the less obvious – but arguably more determined – opposition could come from China,” says Stewart Patrick, global governance expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent US thinktank. “But my sense is that it will happen behind the scenes: China might wield its influence with African countries to discourage them from supporting India’s candidacy.”
Former minister of state of external affairs Shashi Tharoor, who served nearly 30 years as a diplomat at the UN, thinks it unlikely that China sill be swayed by Pakistani persuasion. “I think China will, as a major power, make its own decisions and is unlikely to make it on the basis of the wishes of any particular country,” he says.
Chinese wariness about US support for India’s admittance as a permanent member of the Security Council may be accentuated by perceptions that the move is directed at China to ‘contain it’. “Obviously it sends a signal to China,” reasons Rory Medcalf, director of the International Security Program at Lowy Institute. It also ties in with other “medium-term balancing strategies” by the US in Asia partly as a reaction to China’s recent maritime assertiveness in Asia, he adds.
“There’s little doubt that this news won’t be particularly welcome in Beijing,” points out Andrew Shearer, senior research fellow at the Lowy Institute. Those who “play the containment card” will have their suspicions strengthened, he says.
But Srikanth Kondapalli, professor in Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, believes that China may “respond quickly to ground realities if they are shifting”, and may leverage the trump card it wields over India to secure territorial concessions or advance its strategic interests in the Indian Ocean.
In any case, China holds the key, says Dibyesh Anand, an international relations expert at Westminster University in London. “Unless India works more seriously in improving its relations with China, there is no hope of a permanent seat.”
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