India in 1950s was a strong advocate that PRC should be admitted to the UN and that it take China’s seat as permanent member at the Security Council, which was at that time occupied by the Republic of China (Taiwan).
Since the emergence of PRC in 1949, China had been represented by the ROC’s Chiang Kai-shek regime and not by Mao’s PRC. The United States was instrumental in denying the PRC the seat at the UN owing to Cold War calculations. It was Jawaharlal Nehru who advocated PRC’s case as regards the UN.
Why did Nehru back the PRC’s case for UN membership? Some believe that this was Nehru’s ploy to appease Mao in light of increasing acrimony between India and PRC in the 1950s. Unwilling to ramp up military expenditure, the theory goes, Nehru found it prudent to humor Mao and stave off any showdown. Others argue that Nehru’s misplaced enthusiasm for Asian solidarity, where he saw India and the PRC as being fellow travelers in the broader historical journey, led to him supporting the PRC. Broadly, most ascribe Nehru’s stand to his idealism and lack of appreciation about the “truth” of international relations – that power matters and needs to be engaged wisely.
There is no doubt that Nehru did loathe the amoral politics of his times and the zero-sum rivalry that world politics was caught in. However, what many have totally missed is that Nehru’s reasons for supporting the PRC at the UN had a lot to do with his reading of history and his views of the salience of power among nations.
To understand Nehru’s stand, one needs to set the clock back to the early years of the 20th century. A reading of the great power politics of that time had convinced Nehru that great powers ought not to be shunned by their peers. Instead they had to be accommodated in global organizations commensurate to their standing and power. Not doing so led them to become dissatisfied and difficult entities that constituted a threat to stability.
Nehru believed that the shoddy treatment meted out to Germany after World War I and its sense of humiliation saw it drawing closer to another dissatisfied and ostracized country – the USSR. In April 1922 Germany signed the Treaty of Rapallo with Russia, which heightened tensions in Europe. Timely action by the British allowed for Germany’s rehabilitation and it became a League of Nations member in 1926. The Great Depression, however, let loose forces within Germany that saw it again become a threat to stability.
Nehru was clear that the PRC was not an ordinary power. In 1950, he had stated in the Indian parliament: “Can anyone deny China at the present moment the right of a Great Power from the point of view of strength and power?…she is a Great Power, regardless of whether you like or dislike it.” He underlined that the PRC was a “well-established fact” and that excluding the PRC from Security Council was an “unrealistic state of affairs.”
In 1960, Nehru argued that it was “absurd” to have the ROC represent China at the UN. He believed that “the whole balance of power has changed not only in the Far East but in the world because of this new China.” Not accommodating the PRC in world politics was not only foolish but dangerous. Prudence dictated that the PRC be provided a status commensurate with its power and that it not be shunned.