Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who made an unsuccessful bid for the post of UN Secretary General a decade ago, has said contrary to perceptions China did not oppose his candidature and in fact voted for him in the first “straw poll” of the UN Security Council.
“As the candidate who came second last time, 10 years ago, when Ban Ki-moon was elected in similar circumstances, I followed the votes with interest. At the same time I read a number of references to the 2006 race that were, frankly, inaccurate,” former diplomat Tharoor said in an article today in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
“While some things have been published, particularly in India, that I have preferred not to respond to out of respect for the conventions of confidentiality, one point is worth clarifying, particularly for readers in East Asia. It is simply untrue that my run for the secretary generalship, as India’s official candidate, was scuttled by China,” he said.
His article coincided with the election of former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Guterres as the new UN Secretary General to succeed Ban, the former South Korean Foreign Minister who defeated Tharoor in 2006.
Referring to the importance of China’s stand towards him before the election, Tharoor said “this was an obvious concern when the Indian government first mulled my candidacy. I mentioned it myself in my first conversation on the subject with then prime minister Manmohan Singh,” he said.
“Beijing and New Delhi had not seen eye to eye for years over many issues, and there was an increasing perception that Washington, as well as some ASEAN capitals, were seeing newly resurgent India as a plausible counterweight to the overweening (and growing) international prominence of China,” he said.
“Though India firmly disavowed any intention of playing such a role, there was always a possibility that China would see an Indian secretary general nominee as a tool in a broader strategy to cut China down to size on the world stage,” Tharoor said giving a lengthy account of how he established contact with then Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.
Narrating his meeting with Li in Beijing, Tharoor said “as the meeting drew to a close, his tone turned grave. He spoke slowly and clearly in English – ‘Please convey to your government that China will not stand in your way. China will not stand in your way’. There was only one possible interpretation of these words: China would not use its veto to block me,” he said.
“If China had already made its mind up in favour of another candidate, there was no sign of it. It was obvious to me that my nationality would not render me their preferred choice in the post, but this was a clear message that they would not explicitly oppose me either. It was now up to me to fare better than the other contenders,” he said.
“The foreign minister was as good as his word. When the first ‘straw poll’ took place at the Security Council in July, Ban led with 12 votes and I was second with 10. One of my 10 votes was China’s,” he said.
But at the same “as we subsequently learned, China had voted positively for all the Asian candidates, including me,” he said.
Pointing his finger at the US, Tharoor said US did not want a strong candidate as UN Secretary General following its tiff with outgoing Secretary General Kofi Annan.
“We know the rest of the story from American sources, notably from ‘Surrender Is Not An Option’, the no-holds-barred memoir published by the then US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, who disloyally revealed that his instructions from then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice were ‘We don’t want a strong secretary general’,” Tharoor said.
“Bolton’s book confirmed that Wang had voted for all the Asian candidates on the first ballot; China then abstained on my candidacy on subsequent ballots but, as it promised, it never used its veto against me. That was done by the United States, which, Bolton reveals, backed Ban to the hilt and lobbied on his behalf with other Security Council members,” he said.
“The bilateral relationship with (South) Korea, a perception of a lack of conviction on India’s part, and the Bush administration’s desire not to repeat the Annan experiment of a ‘strong’ secretary general – combined to ensure the US veto that scuttled my candidacy,” he said.
“It had nothing to do with India’s size, India’s Security Council aspirations or indeed any political skulduggery at home,” he said.
“Least of all did it have anything to do with China. Even if Beijing, as Bolton’s memoir indicates, was quite happy with the outcome, China never did oppose me,” he said.
Touching briefly on the present state of India-China ties, Tharoor said “current relations between India and China are complicated”.
“On the positive side are a burgeoning USD 70 billion in bilateral trade (skewed heavily in China’s favour), and promises of increased Chinese investment in India’s growing economy, amid a relaxation by the Modi government of restrictions on Chinese involvement in such sectors as ports, power and telecom,” he said.
“On the negative side are the continuing lack of progress in resolving their six-decade border dispute and Chinese diplomatic actions in support of Pakistan. Global geopolitics continues to pit India and China against each other on some issues even as they cooperate on others,” he said.
“It is in the interest of all Asians that the two regional giants should manage their complicated relationship constructively. But there is no reason at all to add to these complications a problem that never existed. Ten years ago, China did not stand in my way,” he said.