After the deadly terror attacks in Pulwama last month, hopes were high that China would not block India’s bid to designate the Jaish-E-Mohammed (JeM) Chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist under the 1267 Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). However, the Chinese decision has come as a surprise in view of the fact that not only Azhar’s JeM had claimed the responsibility for Pulwama attacks on February 14, but Azhar’s role as the mastermind behind the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai has also been established.
Despite diplomatic initiatives taken by India to improve relations with China and develop common understanding on the global menace of terrorism, China, for the fourth time, blocked the bid at the UNSC. The ban was backed by the United States, United Kingdom, and France among others. To defend its stand, Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that the decision was based on technical grounds and that “China wants more time to study the matter so that the relevant sides will have time for dialogue and consultation”.
While China’s position on the issue has remained unchanged for the past several years; strong diplomatic support from Germany, United Kingdom, the United States, France, and Japan among others is a remarkable success for India. The comment by a United States diplomat after the UN meeting, is significant in this regard, who said that if “China continues to block this designation, responsible member states may be forced to pursue other actions at the UNSC”.
The Chinese decision reflects that Beijing is selective in its approach on combating terrorism. The decision also demonstrates that China considers Pakistan as a strategic ally on all counts. It has been argued that change in China’s position will have an impact on China-Pakistan’s so-called ‘all-weather friendship’.
It may be noted that most of the terrorist organisations operate from or near the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK). China’s support to India’s efforts vis-à-vis JeM would fuel China’s fears that JeM might attack the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)- the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China has invested approximately US$ 60 billion for the project that connects Xinjiang province with Balochistan in Pakistan.
By repeatedly blocking the JeM Chief from being as a ‘UN listed’ global terrorist, China is attempting to undermine India’s fight against terrorism. This is indicative of China’s aversion to play a role in promoting regional peace and stability and jointly combating terrorism.
Interestingly, China has stopped persuading India to join the BRI. The second Belt and Road Forum (BRF) is scheduled to be held in April 2019. China has convinced Italy among other countries to sign the MoU on BRI. Despite suspending projects under the BRI in 2018, Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad will also attend the 2nd BRF next month. This depicts that Beijing has started looking towards other countries for ensuring the credibility of the BRI.
India and China have to deal with several bilateral issues. Both countries already have a protracted boundary dispute, which does not seem to be getting resolved anytime soon. Additionally, rising trade deficit is an irritant in India-China relations. India has been a victim of terrorism for decades and state-sponsored terrorism remains a major concern for India. Nevertheless, certain moves by China have led to trust deficit and could compel India to strengthen its resolve on boosting cooperation with like-minded countries in combating terrorism in all forms and at all levels.
If China’s pledge to work with India does not get converted into action; efforts such as Wuhan Summit and other confidence building measures (CBMs) between India and China may not hold much significance in the longer run. Terrorism is a major challenge for India. As a responsible regional power, it is imperative for China to understand India’s concerns on terrorism in improving bilateral relations.
Script: Sana Hashmi, Strategic Analyst On Chinese And Eurasian Affairs