The Chinese implicit position on the UNSC reform and restructuring is contrary to its explicit position as reflected in its White Paper on the subject. China had stated earlier that it is opposed to the current UN system which favoured the then two superpowers and currently imposes no restrictions on the US. The 2003 US war on Iraq reflected on the inability of the UN system in this regard. Secondly, China believes that the current UN structure does not represent the global realities of distribution of power, social, economic and cultural aspects. Thirdly, China had stated that it is indeed for restructuring the UN system to broaden the geographical and cultural representation and make the UN a more legitimate body as the 1945 realities are different from that of today when a number of rising countries in all continents have come to the fore -- such as Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, Germany, Japan and India.
While China had explicitly opposed Japan’s candidature in the UNSC, it had made no explicit support to the other Group Four members, viz India, Germany and Brazil. However, it had indicated to an implicit support to Germany and Brazil – its major trading and strategic partner respectively -- while with the Indian candidature it appears that China is expecting its “pound of flesh” – possibly in the territorial dispute resolution or on the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s future.
For instance, under Russian pressure, the India-Russia-China trilateral format had extended implicit support to India in this regard. The June 2005 Vladivostok meeting of the trilateral stated that the UN should be reformed “comprehensively” so as to be “reflective of contemporary global realities and more effective in discharging its functions.” The Harbin meeting in October 2007 stated that these three countries “attach importance to the status of India in international affairs and understand and support India’s aspirations to play a greater role in the United Nations.” Subsequently, the 2008 meeting at Yekaterinburg reiterated this position that the UN should play a central role in resolving international issues and that there is a need for UNSC reform. The Bangalore meeting in October 2009 stated that the three countries “attach importance to the status of India in international affairs, and understand and support India’s aspirations to play a greater role in the United Nations.” However, during Foreign Minister SM Krishna’s visit to Beijing in April 2010 there was not much progress on the Indian membership of the UN Security Council, as China only reiterated its older positions on “greater role” for India in such institutions. Later, during President Pratibha Devisingh Patil’s visit to China from May 26 to 31, 2010, China had not unveiled any new position in this regard, while the Indian side thought that the Chinese position in this regard is “evolving.” Subsequent high level meetings between the two countries – Prime Minister’s meeting at Hanoi as a part of the 5th East Asian Summit meeting or the India-Russia- China trilateral meeting at Wuhan or the 4th Strategic Dialogue at the foreign secretary level or the 14th Special Representative meeting hardly yielded any progress in this regard.
This is in contrast to the consistent Indian support to China at the United Nations right from its inception in 1945. Independent India under the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, when alerted about the UNSC seat to India, suggested that as the largest country in Asia and with hundreds of millions of people, China should be given their due at the United Nations first, including the permanent seat with veto power. In fact, it was due to the internal strife and civil war between the nationalists and the communists from the 1940s that the issue of China’s representation at the UN became a contentious point between these two groups. The Republic of China (RoC), which eventually took the seat at the UNSC from 1945 till it was replaced by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1971, argued for the one China principle. India’s support to the PRC was crucial throughout this period, even during the conflict of 1962 when both Indian and the Chinese militaries clashed on the border.
In the last few years, there indeed was some momentum for the reform of the UNSC. It started with the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s proposals for reform, followed by the then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s support to a country which is democratic country, with rising economic clout, strategically located and the like. Annan had suggested that the reform of the UN should take place in two possible scenarios, viz reform of the UNSC with expansion of either the permanent membership (without veto power) or alternately the nonpermanent category of membership. However, it needs to be pointed out that none of these plans took off as no consensus emerged at the international scene on this issue. While the US had indicated support to Japan, Obama’s visit to Delhi in November 2010 indicated to further expansion in the US’s choices.
This is in contrast to the consistent Indian support to China at the United Nations right from its inception in 1945
In the interim, nevertheless, the aspirants have been making certain active preparations and canvassing for the reform of the UNSC. Firstly, during the visit of the Japanese foreign minister recently to Delhi, both countries have initiated coordination measures in Africa -- as that continent has more than 50 member states and whose support would be decisive in the UNSC reform – as the Chinese themselves were to realize in the late 1960s after Premier Zhou Enlai’s African safari. Indeed, African states’ increasing support to the PRC finally tilted the balance against the RoC on Taiwan. Secondly, after the US President Obama’s visit to Delhi, both countries are now actively coordinating their efforts in Africa and other continents.
Thirdly, as a matter of reality, the aspirants should be able to garner support from at least two-third members of the General Assembly of the UN. A resolution in this regard by the General Assembly either in favour of reform and restructuring of the UN or for specific countries’ candidature as permanent members could be binding on all – including the current P-5 members –for moving in this direction. For this, the aspirants need to play an active diplomatic role in eliciting the General Assembly members.
Fourthly, if we look at the privileges of the current permanent five, it becomes clear that the UNSC seat with veto power brings in its stride a lot of clout for the member states – in the international diplomatic, political, financial and other fields. Indeed, China today, with its permanent seat at the UNSC had become assertive on not only its perceived minimalist foreign policy goals but also in its path to become a great power in the 21st century. China utilized veto power seven times so far in the UNSC since the organization came into being from 1945 – as against the total of 261 times the exercise of veto power by all the P5 so far. However, due to the civil war between the communists and the nationalists, the latter held sway at the UN till 1971, when the PRC replaced the nationalist-led RoC. While RoC exercised the first veto in 1955 to block Mongolian membership, PRC utilized veto power six times – firstly against Bangladesh membership in 1972 after its liberation from Pakistan in 1971. China, during this time supported Pakistan and had exercised considerable pressure on India on the prisoners of war issue.
UNSC reform indeed could be difficult and intractable, if not insurmountable. Given the rising aspirations of several countries and redundancy of the 1945 system
Later, China exercised the veto at this forum to send a signal against Taiwan – as in the cases of Guatemala and Macedonia. Recently, in 2007 and 2008, China indicated that it is now confident to exercise its international clout and protect its close partners such as Myanmar and Zimbabwe. When the “saffron revolution” took place in Myanmar by Buddhist monks against the autocratic rule of the military junta, China (along with Russia) opposed the US resolution criticizing human rights violations. Likewise was the case with Zimbabwe. It appears that China is also likely to use veto power in the case of the Sudan-Darfur crisis in the future. In this case, China considers that Beijing-backed Khartoum regime is not involved in genocide. This marks a change in the Chinese position gearing towards maximalist demands of striving for allies and friends in the international system.
From the above, it can be deduced that the UNSC reform indeed could be difficult and intractable, if not insurmountable. Given the rising aspirations of several countries and redundancy of the 1945 system, it can be argued that the momentum for UNSC reform will accelerate further in the future making apparent whether Beijing will stick to its stated principle of UNSC reform or whether in a real politick sense demand its pound of flesh from New Delhi. It is also safe to predict that even if New Delhi is finally endowed with the UNSC permanent seat its trajectory may not be radically different from that of Beijing so far– implying that India could possibly use the newly acquired clout to protect its core sovereignty issues, specifically on Kashmir.
Srikanth Kondapalli is Professor in Chinese Studies at JNU