India will place efforts to contain Chinese attempts to expand its influence in the United Nations system as a foreign policy priority. New Delhi has always sought to reduce Beijing’s influence in the UN and its affiliated organisations, but it is now considering “all options” in its responses. Even the UN Human Rights Council, a tainted body that India has generally kept at arm’s length, may not be off the list.
Previously indifferent to East River, over the past decade, China has come to see the UN as a means to legitimize its status as a great power. Its footprint has also grown because of United States hostility to the organisation. There at least four areas India will direct its diplomatic firepower.
One will be to deny China chairmanship of UN agencies. Beijing holds four chairs presently and wants more such positions. India will, at the least, seek to ensure China does not win more positions and preferably lose some of the ones it already holds. The Chinese heads of the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the International Telecommunications Union are already in their second terms and seen as vulnerable. Indian officials say China sees four chairs as the absolute minimum it should have.
A second line is to ensure no major UN offices or agencies are set up in China. Beijing has long been unhappy that no UN agency is based in their country despite being the world’s number two power. The present UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, has been trying to set up regional UN offices because of the high cost of operations in New York City. Last year, Beijing lobbied to have one such office set up in Shanghai.
Besides land and housing, it even offered to pay part of the salaries of the UN staff. When China tried to mobilize the 140-strong Group of 77 countries to win support for the idea, India mobilized friendly governments from Africa to stall the plans. The US joined in at the Security Council level, citing security concerns about having UN offices on Chinese soil. While this drive has been derailed, Beijing will try again. “It’s still on the agenda,” says a former Indian UN diplomat.
China also wants to take the helm in UN peace-keeping efforts. Beijing now contributes more to the peacekeeping fund than Britain, France and Russia combined. India has noted China is already pushing its soldiers to countries where its firms have economic interests. Chinese soldiers have performed miserably in South Sudan, but Beijing is more interested in giving the orders from the top.
Finally, Beijing chafes at the fact it receives very few of the UN’s lucrative billion-dollar contracts for services and equipment. India, for example, is the second largest UN contractor thanks to its pharmaceutical products.
China, say UN officials, “is nowhere on the list.” There is an expectation Beijing will try to get the rules of the UN’s tendering process diluted to its advantage