United Nations: In a significant victory, India has been elected to the United Nations' Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), defeating China in a direct fight for the lone seat from the Asia-Pacific region and returning to this powerful external oversight body after a gap of 35 years.

India's permanent representative to the UN offices in Geneva, A Gopinathan defeated Zhang Yan, China's Ambassador in New Delhi, to assume a place on the JIU for a five-year term starting on January 1, 2013.

India won with a clear majority of 106 votes out of the 183 cast, while China got 77 votes. India has served only once on the JIU 35 years ago from 1968 to 1977.

The JIU election was the first time ever that India was locked in a "direct contest" with China in the UN General Assembly.

"We are thrilled. The important thing is that this was a straight contest because it involves a country which is the world's second largest economy and which has growing diplomatic reach," India's Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said.

A visibly beaming Puri said he was "very confident" about the country's chances as it had a "good candidate" and also because of "India's standing" at the multilateral body.

Countries are elected to the JIU for five years and typically extend their term for another five years.

China had held its seat for 10 years and its term was to expire in December 2012.

It was assumed that China would not seek to re-contest for the post.

But "low and behold, they decided to put up their Ambassador in Delhi (for the JIU election). This is even more significant," an official at the Indian mission to the UN said.

Yan was recently embroiled in a controversy when he told an Indian journalist in New Delhi to "shut up" after the scribe asked the ambassador to comment on a map of India, distributed by a state-owned Chinese firm, that did not show some parts of Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh in the Indian territory.

"The big countries want to make permanent membership of the JIU also. India has been able to challenge that," he said.

Puri said winning the election "is of very high importance as JIU is an important body. But the fact that we can contest an election of this kind and win will hopefully provide assurance to my friends and colleagues at headquarters that we need not be so risk averse."

While India won by a comfortable margin, officials at the Indian mission said China had been using its "margin of persuasion" as well as its "fairly strong electoral machine" to garner votes in its favour.

India on its part too used a "counter-margin of persuasion," the official added.

The JIU is an independent external oversight body of the United Nations system, mandated to conduct evaluations, inspections and investigations system-wide.
It is composed of not more than 11 Inspectors serving for a term of five years, renewable once.

The election was for the appointment of an Inspector from Asia, for a term starting on January 1 2013, on the completion of the term of an Inspector that was secured by China in 2003 and will be held by them for 10 years till 2012.

The election to the UN body is the latest in a series of wins that India has been adding to its UN resume.