New Delhi: US President Barack Obama endorsed on Monday India’s long-held demand for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), a largely symbolic move that may put diplomatic pressure on rival regional power China.
India says a seat on the Council would reflect the growing weight of the G-20 nation as its trillion dollar economy helps spur global growth and its government exerts more and more influence over issues from Doha trade to climate change talks.
“In the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member,” Obama said in a speech to India’s Parliament in New Delhi.
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“Let me suggest that with increased power comes increased responsibility,” he added at the end of the first leg of a 10-day Asian tour that has also been seen about gathering support from countries like India to exert pressure on China on its currency.
Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, told a news conference ahead of Obama’s speech that “this was a full endorsement” for India’s permanent membership of a reformed Security Council.
It could still be a pipe dream and likely face resistance from some countries reluctant to water down the power of the five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. But it is probably Obama’s most headline-grabbing announcement on his first official visit to the world’s largest democracy that has seen the US leader seeks greater trade with India’s massive markets as well as to help counterbalance the rise of China.
The UNSC has since the body’s inception had five permanent members with the power to veto resolutions. It has been criticised for not reflecting global power in the 21st century.
Obama’s trip with more than 200 business executives, and his UN announcement, underscored the growing importance of India, which by 2020 is expected to be one of the five largest economies in the world, along with Asian powers China and Japan.
Obama will also visit Indonesia, South Korea and Japan on the tour that will see Washington push to prevent countries unilaterally devaluing currencies to protect their exports, a top theme at the G-20 meeting in Seoul this week.
“I don’t think India is emerging. It has emerged. India is a key actor on the world stage,” Obama told a joint news conference with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier on Monday.
In his three day trip — the longest stay in any foreign country by President Obama — the US leader announced $10 billion in business deals, aiming at reassuring voters that countries like India offer benefits for US jobs rather than causing unemployment through outsourcing.
Obama has also announced the United States would relax export controls over sensitive technology, another demand of India’s.
The US President said he would support India’s membership of four global non-proliferation organisations, a move that will reassure New Delhi — left out of these groups after its 1998 nuclear tests -- that Washington is recognising its global clout.
It is unclear how much new Washington will get from India.
Sectors like retail and the financial services are still heavily restricted to foreign investors and there are few signs that Singh’s ruling Congress party has plans for any major reforms soon.
The US under secretary of commerce for international trade, Francisco Sanchez, said in New Delhi that the United States wanted greater market access to India’s infrastructure and energy sectors. India has targeted to spend $1 trillion over five years on upgrading its poor infrastructure, from potholed roads to log-jammed ports.
For all the talk of a UN seat, it could take as much as a decade to achieve. Some in the United States have been sceptical about giving India a seat as it has often stood against the United States in UN votes.
“The UNSC is not going to be reorganised in the next eight to 10 years,” said Gurmeet Karmal, director of Centre for Land Warfare Studies, a New Delhi based think-tank.
“I do not think China will openly come in the way, but they will encourage some of its friends to vote against any such move.”
Whether answering questions from students over Pakistan or talking to farmers by video link, Obama’s trip has won positive coverage in a nation where US cultural influence is growing as is a new middle class, millions of consumers strong.
Obama has met with some criticism at home for travelling abroad so soon after his losses in mid-term elections over unemployment, but has been well received in India, vowing to lift export controls.
Obama is walking a diplomatic tightrope in New Delhi, on the one hand trying to boost diplomatic and business ties with India while on the other ensuring relations with Pakistan and China, nations often at loggerheads with India, stay stable.
Highlighting the regional diplomatic jigsaw that Obama must negotiate in India, Singh appeared to rebuff calls by the US president for India and Pakistan to move forward on peace talks.
Singh poured cold water on any immediate improvement in relations with Pakistan, in the doldrums since Pakistan-based militants killed 166 people in a rampage through Mumbai in 2008.
Obama on Sunday had called on the two nuclear foes to take small steps to improve ties.
“You cannot simultaneously be talking and at the same time the terror machine is as active as ever before,” Singh told the joint news conference.
“Once Pakistan moves away from this terror-induced coercion, we will be very happy to engage productively with Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues.”
Indian officials have long expressed scepticism at US support for Pakistan, saying Islamabad is hoodwinking Washington by taking aid while also backing militants in Afghanistan.