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India and China had similar considerations on Libya

Ananth Krishnan & Sandeep Dikshit

Both were against use of force, at the same time they did not want to upset ties with the West and Arab countries


Military action causing more civilian casualties and a greater humanitarian crisis: China

Military intervention has its risks…we do not condone the loss of innocent lives: Nirupama Rao


BEIJING/NEW DELHI: Without consulting each other intimately, India and China adopted largely similar stands while abstaining from the United Nations Security Council resolution on approving a no-fly-zone over Libya.

China's decision to abstain from the UNSC vote, according to officials and analysts in Beijing, reflected a difficult balancing act between a historical opposition to any kind of military intervention and concerns about isolating itself among both Western powers and Arab countries that backed the resolution.

Similar considerations also compelled India to abstain instead of opposing the resolution. India has always opposed the use of force and it did so this time in its explanation of vote. Government sources pointed out that when read with the explanation of vote on the first UNSC resolution on Libya that imposed sanctions, it becomes clear that India was opposed to the direction that the issue was taking.

But pragmatic considerations prevailed in India deciding to abstain from the vote. The first was the uncertainty among permanent members China and Russia over the direction that Libyan ruler Muammar Qadhafi's war against his opponents would take. They were not sure if their opposition to the no-fly-zone and air strikes would strengthen Qadhafi's resolve and the aggression could deteriorate into mass killings of civilians. The second, like China, was its desire not to upset existing ties with the West and the ruling Arab autocracies.

The other consideration was for civilians. Informed sources pointed out that despite Western assurances about the accuracy of its missiles and bombs before the start of aggression, the experience has been to the contrary since the first Gulf War. Each war, whether to liberate Kuwait or hunt down the Taliban in Afghanistan, civilians were killed and maimed in large numbers.

Call for ceasefire

While China has backed a no-fly-zone to protect civilians, it has, like India, hit out at the air strikes, expressing “regret” over the military intervention, though Beijing chose to not veto the resolution.

“We always oppose use of armed forces in international relations,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said, calling for an immediate ceasefire. “Therefore, we have serious reservations about part of the resolution. But given concerns and stances of Arab countries and African Union as well as special conditions of Libya, we, together with other countries, have abstained from voting” rather than vetoing the resolution, she added.

She, however, criticised the air strikes, warning that military action was “an abuse” of force that was “causing more civilian casualties and a greater humanitarian crisis.”

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao also made more or less the same arguments. “We believe we did the right thing. Military intervention has its dangers and risks. Are you so sure about outcomes...we said all along that we did not condone the loss of innocent lives,” she said.

No pushovers

At the same time she made the point about the abstainers being no pushovers although they lacked the combined financial and military muscle of the European powers. “Our countries are a significant presence on the global stage and we had cogent reasons for abstaining. India, China, Russia, Germany and Brazil abstained on the UNSC Libya vote. With a combined population of three billion, they comprise almost 40 per cent of humanity.”

In China, some analysts have seen the vote as underscoring a deepening divide between Western countries and emerging powers. “By abstaining from the vote, the countries of emerging markets have shown that the international community is divided on the issue,” said Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies.

He said while the BRIC countries did not consult with each other on their stand, their similar national interests brought them together on the vote.

Dangerous precedent

Another common concern was whether the vote would “in principle, be used as a dangerous precedent for future military intervention,” added Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University, in an interview with The Hindu.

China, like India, has also sought to preserve its growing interests in the region, most evident in its fast-growing imports of energy resources, than stand with the West. China's “major interest-related friendship” with Saudi Arabia played a substantial role in its decision to let the resolution pass, Mr. Shi said.

“Narrow interests”

Shen Dingli, a strategic analyst at Fudan University, told The Hindu that the five countries that abstained took “too much take care of their narrowly defined national interests and yielded to American hegemonism.”

India also gave additional arguments to justify its abstention. The most striking among them was that the resolution was passed even before the U.N. Secretary General's Special Envoy on Libya could finalise his report.

It also pointed out that there was little credible information on the situation and the bombing began even before command and control issues were settled.

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