China’s veto of a UN Security Council resolution on Syria this weekend was not its first, but it is the more controversial. Forget China’s protestations that it exercised its veto to be supportive of Moscow’s “reasonable concerns” over the resolutions’s wording and to help maintain the unity and authority of the Security Council, seen above in session on Feb. 4th. Forget, too, the Iranian dimension to all this. There was never a realistic chance that Beijing would support a resolution calling for forced regime change in the face of popular protests and “a political transition to a democratic, plural political system.”
“The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria should be fully respected,” said Li Baodong, China’s permanent representative to the UN. Change one proper noun in that sentence and it will sound awfully familiar.
Our man in New York sends word of a little noticed election at the United Nations in which the dragon has suffered a reverse at the hands of the elephant. For the past 10 years, Beijing has occupied a seat on the UN’s Joint Inspection Unit, the UN system’s independent external oversight body. But it has been ousted with A. Gopinathan’s 106-77 defeat of Zhang Yan for a five-year term starting in 2013. Gopinathan is India’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva; Zhang is Beijing’s well-regarded but somewhat controversial ambassador to New Delhi.
This was a rare head-to-head confrontation of Asia’s two regional powers, and while the post is of greater importance within the UN than without, it serves as a reminder that Beijing’s sway is not omnipotent, regardless of the fact that China has a permanent seat on the UN’s Security Council, whereas India has only a rotating one. We also understand that New Delhi only decided to fight for the post after Beijing asked it not to field a candidate for Asia’s second seat at the unit. Japan holds the other one.