Barack Obama might have been happy sprinkling pledges of US support for permanent UN Security Council membership around like confetti during his latest Asia trip, but India is also doing its own bit of lobbying to try to make it happen.
After telling India that he supported seeing the country elevated to ‘its rightful place in the world’ during his three-day visit there last weekend, Obama followed up by telling Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the sidelines of the APEC summit that Japan is a model for the kind of country that should have a place on the UNSC.
The truth is, of course, that if India is to have any hope of seeing reform of the Council (something that anyway remains a distant prospect, with the current membership in no hurry to back a dilution of their own powers) it will also need the support of permanent member China.
With this in mind, India was pressing the issue with Chinese officials over the weekend on the sidelines of a China-India-Russia summit being held in Wuhan. The Hindustan Times reported that Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna told his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi that there was 'overwhelming support' for India's bid and added that it was important that UN members focus on the issue.
The paper went on to quote Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao as outlining the Chinese response as being ‘willing to have “closer consultations” with India on the issue of UN reform, which is incrementally speaking a positive indicator…They are alert to this issue and increasingly focus on it.’
I’m sure they are focusing on the issue, specifically how to find new ways of fobbing India off. India may be making a new diplomatic push, but it seems inconceivable that at a time of such prickly relations between the two it will get anything but lip service from China.
I remember speaking with India’s then deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, A. Gopinathan, in New York back in the summer of 2005 when India last made a big push for a seat. He rightly made the case, as many others have, that the current arrangement fails to reflect the changed realities of the 21st century.
Back then, India had banded together with Brazil, Germany and Japan to form a so-called G-4 bid. Objectively, the joint bid made a lot of sense and certainly would have gone a long way toward remedying the current geographic imbalances. But by aligning itself with Japan, India likely cut its already slim hopes of securing change even further.
India’s new independent drive, then, certainly makes more sense from an Indian perspective. Still, New Delhi shouldn’t count on an early change of heart from China.
Obama, meanwhile, will have been quite happy to pocket the goodwill he received for backing a change he knows full well won’t be coming any time soon.