External Affairs

Reference to Second World War in BRICS Declaration Leaves India Nonplussed

With China and Japan squaring off on the lessons of WWII, India seeks refuge in quest for reform of post-world war order.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping arrive for a photo opportunity ahead of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit in Benaulim, in Goa, India, October 15, 2016. Credit:Danish Siddiqui/Reuters/Files

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping arrive for a photo opportunity ahead of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit in Benaulim, in Goa, India, October 15, 2016. Credit:Danish Siddiqui/Reuters/Files

New Delhi: At the BRICS summit chaired by India, a single sentence in the declaration that was issued went under the radar. For the second consecutive year, the bloc of five emerging economies committed themselves to strongly oppose “continued attempts to misrepresent the results of World War II”.

Indian sources told The Wire that the phrase was included because of China’s insistence. It was a “Chinese formulation”, said a senior government official.

On Thursday, at the weekly briefing of ministry of external affairs (MEA), a Japanese journalist asked why India took the “same position with China” over the phrase in the BRICS statement, which he described as Beijing’s “regular provocative expression targeting Japan.”

“Look, as far as we are concerned, 1945 to us represents the old world order, which we want changed. Why are India and Japan and Brazil and Germany together in the group of G4? It is precisely to overturn the 1945 world order which is still enshrined in the United Nations Security Council. So I would interpret it this way, that for us the 1945 world order needs to change, the United Nations Security Council needs to reflect current realities and it needs to admit countries like India which has all the credentials of being a permanent member of the security council,” said MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup.

In fact , the reference to the Second World War in the Goa Declaration was preceded by a reaffirmation of the need to set up a “fair and equitable international order” based on the UN charter – but does not talk about reforming the UN:

We reaffirm our commitment to contribute to safeguarding a fair and equitable international order based on the purposes and principles of the charter of the United Nations including through consistent and universal respect and adherence to the principles and rules of international law in their inter-relation and integrity, compliance by all states with their international legal obligations. We express our commitment to resolutely reject the continued attempts to misrepresent the results of World War II. We recall further that development and security are closely interlinked, mutually reinforcing and key to attaining sustainable peace. [Goa Declaration, 2016]

The WWII sentence first appeared in the Ufa declaration, drafted under the chairmanship of Russia in 2015. At the time, the context of the phrase was explicit, with both China and Russia marking 70 years of the end of the Second World War, with special commemorative parades.

The year 2015 also marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. We paid tribute to all those who fought against fascism and militarism and for freedom of nations. We are encouraged that the general assembly adopted by consensus the resolution 69/267 entitled “Seventieth Anniversary of the End of the Second World War”. We welcomed that in conformity with this resolution on May 5, 2015 the general assembly held a special solemn meeting in commemoration of all victims of the war. We express our commitment to resolutely reject the continued attempts to misrepresent the results of World War II. While remembering the scourge of war, we highlight that it is our common duty to build a future of peace and development. [Ufa Declaration, 2015]

By comparing the context of the phrase in the sentence in the two declarations, it is clear that BRICS was not referring to the need to reform the UNSC, as India now claims.

In fact, there is another paragraph in the same document which alluded to UN reforms by repeating past language about China and Russia attaching importance to the “aspiration” of Brazil, India and South Africa to play a “greater role” in the UN.

When the WWII line was first inserted last year, two members of BRICS – Russia and China – were in the midst of organising lavish celebrations: China had claimed that the parade to mark the “Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and [the] World Antifascist War” was not aimed at any other country. But articles like those published in Global Times signalled a display of anti-Japanese sentiment in the run-up to the parade that tried to showcase President Xi Jinping as a great nationalist leader.

It was the first time that China marked September 3 as ‘Victory Day’ – formally embracing parts of its history that had been officially shelved for the large part of its modern existence since 1949.

Not surprisingly, the prevalent anti-Japanese sentiment led most western countries – who had been Chinese allies in the war – to send lower level representatives for the celebrations. India sent an army contingent to take part in the parade at Red Square. But in China, India was represented only by minister of state for external affairs, V.K. Singh.

Eminent military historian Srinath Raghavan said that India may have gone along with including the sentence last year due to the anniversary, especially since Delhi didn’t send a very senior representative to the Chinese parade.

With the sentence already in the previous declaration, repeating it in this year’s declaration was not a difficult job.

Raghavan noted that the Chinese do have a case to say their role has been overlooked.

“Even though I have written a book on India’s role [in World War II], it is true that the Chinese contribution was much more significant. They locked off the Japanese and did pay a heavy price for it,” he said.

Japan and China have recently clashed in UNESCO over the cultural body admitting documents related to the 1937 Nanjing massacre in its “Memory of the World” program. After Japan reportedly withheld its 2016 dues to UNESCO, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said, “What Japan has said and done once again lays bare their wrong attitude of not acknowledging history”.

In a September 2015 article, historian Rana Mitter indicated that Beijing’s use of the “memory of the war” was not as much to fan anti-Japanese sentiment, but rather to legitimise its rising profile in Asia, just as the US had earlier done.

“China is increasingly resentful of the US’s role in Asia, arguing that if American contributions to the defeat of Japan in 1945 entitles it to a continuing presence in the region, then China’s own sacrifices also grant it a role,” said Mitter, who had authored the book, Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II.

Raghavan noted that the Americans have always touted their presence in Asia as being a ‘force of stability’. “This is a mythology which Chinese have pushed back strongly. Whenever some American brings it up at a forum, they point out that the US had been involved in huge wars in Vietnam and Korea. They have bombed Cambodia and Laos. It is a strange view of history,” he said.