Bailing out China at variance with Beijing’s belligerence

India’s decision to abstain from the vote on debating human rights abuses in Xinjiang province of China at the UN Human Rights Council flies in the face of Beijing’s anti-India stand on terrorism at the UN Security Council (UNSC).

After all, it has single-handedly blocked the sanctioning of three Pakistan-based anti-India terrorists this year, including 26/11 mastermind Sajid Mir last month, at the UNSC-mandated 1267 Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee. It has used its special position as a permanent UNSC member to do this favour to Pakistan despite the fact that all other members support India’s case.

Therefore, in many ways, China was let off the hook at Geneva as it desperately approached India for support in a narrowly contested vote, where 19 countries voted with China and 17 against. It’s believed that if India had decided to vote against China, another country that was awaiting New Delhi’s cue and ended up abstaining, may well have voted against Beijing, thus forcing a tie. And that would have brought the matter back to the start line.

So, how did India end up abstaining? Because as a matter of principle, India does not vote on country-specific human rights issue. Reason: It may rebound on India over the Kashmir matter. That caution, however, did not prevent China from convening a special meeting of the UNSC on Kashmir after the withdrawal of Article 370 in 2019. Many of those who voted in favour of a debate on Xinjiang, in fact, stand with India on Kashmir in the UNSC.

The problem, it seems, is that somewhere South Block is not taking an integrated view on the UNSC and the Human Rights Council. By viewing New York and Geneva as separate councils, India probably ended up short-changing itself. Whereas, it could have compelled China to first remove its hold on India’s three terror designation proposals at the Al Qaeda sanctions committee in return for its support at Geneva.

While the logic behind the principle of not voting on country-specific human rights subjects has some merit to it, there’s also a need to look at each case separately and in the prevailing political context. That’s what was probably missing in this case because India ended up viewing the matter somewhat bureaucratically and in the narrow context of the human rights council.

On September 28, India will be hosting all members of the UNSC Counter Terrorism Committee in Mumbai. The symbolism of the 26/11 is writ large and it remains to be seen how China approaches that meet. In December, India will assume presidency of the UNSC for one last time in its term, pressing for more outcomes on the counter-terror front.

At a broader level, India must also consider that while batting on the front foot on terror, it cannot be always defensive on human rights. The current geopolitical context provides it ample opportunity and space to expand its support base for both folios. In fact, an integrated approach would probably help stitch this together.

Returning to the issue at hand, it’s now incumbent on South Block to work out a reciprocal bargain from Beijing for the abstention in Geneva. It may prove to be difficult now that the vote is done but that’s where ingenuity will be tested, else the turn of events in the UN Human Rights Council will amount to giving a free pass to China at a time when it’s leaving no stone unturned to block and stumble India.

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