China played a vital role in actualising Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal for an International Yoga Day, signing on as an early co-sponsor of a UN resolution piloted by India.
Officials of India’s Permanent Mission to UN approached their Chinese counterparts on October 4, just a week after Modi’s speech, and Beijing was on board immediately.
“It was Thursday when we contacted them, and they came back to us just the following Monday,” said an official, who did not want to be identified, revealing these details for the first time.
“That’s superfast for Beijing,” the official added.
It indeed was, and in ink on paper. Telephonic conversations, or any other informal communication, do not work in the UN. So, China came on board in writing, signature et al.
The Yoga Day initiative will see events in India as well as in 192 other countries, making it the biggest event ever for which the government has also applied to the Guinness World Records.
Indians had first approached the United States, which said it would think about it, but officials knew it was in the bag — “yoga is more popular here than anywhere else”.
India’s permanent representative Asoke Kumar Mukerji confirmed the US and China were the earliest, and key backers of the proposal, but he refused to discuss the details.
China signing up as co-sponsor, more than the US, was critical for Indians strategising a smooth and successful passage of the resolution through a famously bureaucratic UN.
“It prevented our neighbour (Pakistan, not named, but clearly meant) from playing mischief...,” said the official, adding, “with its big brother China officially in support”.
Pakistan, indeed, may have tried. It never showed up for the informal meetings called by India’s mission to put together the text of the resolution, in letter and spirit.
And it did not sign up as a co-sponsor, as one of only 12 nations not to do so — 177 did, including 49 of the 56 members of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC).
But in the end, even Pakistan fell in. The resolution passed the UN unanimously by its 192 member countries, which is a record, officials said, beating the previous highest of 162.
The wooing of China did not, however, begin on October 4. That’s when a plan taking shape since Chinese president Xi Jinping’s India visit in September was rolled out.
While the world was focussed on pictures of Xi and Modi on a 'jhoola (swing)', diplomats of the permanent mission in New York noticed something far more important from their point of view.
They had advance knowledge of PM Modi’s plan to urge the UN for Yoga Day later that month, and they had begun looking for ways to move the ball, and with speed.
And China’s support would be critical, they knew.
When President Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, visited Tagore International in Delhi, PMI diplomats noticed pictures of a tie-up the school had with a Shanghai school.
“It was an exchange programme of sorts — the Shanghai school would offer Tai chi lessons in exchange for Yoga from Tagore International,” the source recalled. That was a start.
Chinese news agency Xinhua too had reported that exchange programme apparently. Armed with that clip, and one from Xi’s visit, PMI officials met their Chinese counterparts.
Four days later, Beijing was on board.