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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 on Saturday 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.