The trilateral Russia, India and China (RIC) forum concluded its 13th foreign ministers meeting in Beijing on February 2, 2015. Calling for a comprehensive reform of the United Nations, including the Security Council, the RIC communiqué stated: “Foreign Ministers of China and Russia reiterated the importance they attached to the status of India in international affairs and supported its aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations.” The leaders reiterated the importance of UN reforms in order to make it more representative and have countries such as India and Brazil play a bigger role in the UN. They noted the importance of new players in the context of framing effective responses to contemporary and emerging challenges.
The debate around India’s UNSC aspirations is decades old. India began to argue for better representation based on its population, territory and economy, political system, civilisational legacy and ethnic, cultural, and religious diversities. India’s quest for the UNSC seat began to pick greater momentum in the recent years with New Delhi articulating these issues at every bilateral, regional and multilateral fora. US President Barack Obama’s endorsement in this regard in 2010 made a big shift as far as the P-5 dynamics are concerned. China remains the only P-5 country that has still not endorsed India’s membership into the UNSC.
Making some small change in its stance on UN Security Council expansion and India’s aspirations to become a permanent member, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “The reform of the UN Security Council should give priority to increasing the representativeness of developing countries.” As part of a larger package around UN reforms, India earlier pitched its permanent UNSC seat along with Brazil, Germany and Japan. While Russia and China became open to the idea of India and Brazil, they are quite about Japan’s candidature. Given the strained relations between Japan and China around issues of history and territory, it is unlikely that Beijing will come around to endorsing Japan’s candidature in the near future.
Does the RIC statement mean that China has had a change of mind as far as India’s UNSC membership is concerned? While the Chinese comments are no way departing from the Chinese official stance, it still is a stronger reiteration to include India as a member of the UNSC. Nevertheless, this is far from a complete endorsement. The spokesperson in fact qualified China’s support by saying “Beijing would like to reach “broadest consensus through diplomatic means” on UNSC reform.
Indeed, it is not clear that it is a distinct shift in China’s policy to support India’s candidature. The Chinese position is borne more out of compulsion of being part of the RIC. Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who was there in Beijing for the meeting said that India had pushed two major issues – India’s permanent membership into the UNSC and support for debate within the UN for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. After holding talks several times on these issues, China has finally voiced support. The point is that China might find it extremely difficult to include this in a bilateral joint statement but India could possibly use other regional forums such as BRICS or the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to enlist the Chinese support on this issue. Even though India is only an Observer at the SCO at this stage, China is increasingly leaning with others to include India as a full member. Obviously the Chinese agreed to consider India’s membership seriously only after brokering a similar deal for Pakistan, who is also an Observer currently.
Whether China’s support in these forums mean anything can be put to test only when there is a fresh move in the UN to undertake some of these long overdue reforms. But even the minimal change in China’s posture on the issue of India’s UNSC membership should be welcomed. India should also press such issues in bilateral talks but the bilateral dialogues are usually tied down on more critical issues such as regarding the border. Nevertheless, the issue of India’s UNSC seat came up during President Xi Jinping’s visit to India in September 2014, where he stated that China would support India’s bid for a permanent Security Council seat in an expanded Security Council. Among areas of cooperation, India should highlight this as an area that might bring good will for China if it did adopt a friendlier attitude.
(Dr Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)
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