India is again discussing China’s decision to block efforts at the 1267 Committee of the United Nations Security Council to ban Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar for the fourth consecutive time. The discussion borders on anger, raised anti-China sentiments and a political slugfest, highlighting divisions on matters of national security.
There was renewed hope after four of the five permanent UNSC members backed the proposal this time that China may not block it. JeM claiming responsibility for the Pulwama terror attack, drawing unequivocal criticism from the international community, including countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE, had also kindled hope that China may not want to be seen holding a contrary view.
However, China defied the hopes and put the proposal on "technical hold". The hold can last a maximum of nine months, after which China can again use its veto power. India hoped for the ban because it would have led to a freeze on Azhar’s assets and a travel embargo, affecting the terrorist outfit’s finances and mobility.
While India’s anger and dismay is justified, the question is why is China repeatedly coming to the rescue of Masood Azhar? Is China against the global effort to combat terror or is China’s decision motivated by other factors?
A nation always decides its options and policies based on its national and strategic interests. China has a clear strategic vision and its intent and policy are in complete sync with its global interests. It is clear that China is using its diplomatic lever to act against India's interests, as Pakistan has requested, in pursuance of their joint strategic objectives.
China’s strategic interests demand an access to Indian Ocean and an alternative to Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) passing through the vulnerable South China Sea. The key to both lies with Pakistan's Gwadar port, whose development and control has become a necessity for China to further its influence in Asia and Africa. Moreover, in consonance with Chanakya’s dictum of an “enemy’s enemy is your best friend”, Pakistan foots the bill and provides China an ideal proxy against India. Azhar is a mere pawn in a much bigger game. China is not just repeatedly bailing out the terrorist leader but is coming to the rescue of its trusted ally Pakistan, which stares at the possibility of being designated a “terror state.”
China and India do not enjoy the best of neighbourly relations and have an unsettled border dispute. China is already in illegal occupation of Indian territory and stakes claims for more. Pakistan is an avowed enemy of India and considers it a quintessential threat. Humiliated by the defeat suffered by its army in 1971 resulting in its bifurcation, Pakistan unleashed a proxy war against India with terror as the instrument of its state policy, thus forming an ideal partner of China in the region. As long as animosity continues to exist between India and China, Pakistan will remain an important player in China’s security calculus.
As part of China’s ambitious Belt Road Initiative, it has made multi- billion dollar investments in Pakistan, to which India is objecting. China has repeatedly tried to convince India that China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is not India-centric but is a project of economic cooperation aimed at ushering economic prosperity, peace and stability in the region. India opposes it on the issue of sovereignty since CPEC runs through Pakistan-occupied Jammu & Kashmir. China will not let its investment go waste and, for that, it needs to keep Pakistan in good humour. China claims it has no hegemonic designs in the region. Keeping terrorists like Azhar and others under its protection, China ensures peace for its CPEC as a quid pro quo.
Another possible reason is that China is worried due to India’s vigorous efforts to upgrade and build infrastructure on the India-China border. Raising the mountain strike corps also worries China. It would therefore like India-Pakistan relations to remain in turmoil so that India’s renewed attention towards developing the India-China border remains diverted, along with its adverse effect on the growing Indian economy.
JeM is already a UN banned organisation and China should have no objection to declaring its chief as a global terrorist. But China has always had a dubious policy as far as terror and support to rogue nations goes. Its support of North Korea is a case in point. China has tried to justify its stand by stating that the case against Azhar lacks evidence. This is a vague argument. China considers it is fully justified in putting the proposal on "technical hold" on the plea that it would allow more time to the Committee and its members to examine the entire issue and evolve a consensus.
Indian diplomacy is being tested. It is in the interest of global peace that India and China narrow their differences and cooperate with each other rather than compete to justify 21st century being called the "Asian century". China also knows that with passage of time it would be difficult to keep India down with its military power and therefore would resort more and more to the use of its diplomatic and soft powers.
China has a huge trade surplus of $52 billion (2017–18) with India. So however we may put it, we need China more than it needs us. China is our largest trading partner and we are China’s nth trading partner. Can we afford a trade war with China?
India should try to iron out differences with China, particularly the boundary issue. China seems in no hurry to resolve the same. China also has to be convinced of the danger terrorism poses to regional peace and stability as terror does not recognise international boundaries and spreads like cancer. Domestically, China so far has brilliantly dealt with terrorists to ensure that there isn’t any Islamist terror in the country. The way China is managing its Xinjiang province to curb terrorism is a case study for others to take lessons on how to deal with religious fundamentalism.
(The author is now a Jammu-based strategic analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)