China’s calculative diplomacy

India, Pakistan and geostrategic fault lines

Vivek Mishra

International relations, National security | Asia, East Asia, South Asia

14 November 2016

China’s moves in the United Nations Security Council signal regional recalibrations of the power dynamics in Asia, argues Vivek Mishra.

At the beginning of last month, on October 1, China effectively blocked the latest in a series of moves by India to initiate a new phase of retaliatory diplomacy against Pakistan at the international level. China used its veto power in March this year to stop an earlier effort by New Delhi to press charges against and ban Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar under the sanctions committee of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). China has now stymied India’s latest push to get the JeM leader and Pathankot terror attack mastermind onto the UN terror list by extending the technical hold on its March veto.

It is no secret that Masood Azhar has been involved in terror activities and shares linkages with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The JeM is a terrorist group primarily based out of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Its militant agenda is to make the entire Kashmir territory a part of Pakistan. The organisation has vowed to dispel the last foreign soldier from Afghanistan and openly declared a war against the US.

Despite the JeM having been outlawed in Pakistan, it continues to function, mobilising both people and resources for its diabolic purposes, albeit often under the veneer of noble causes such as a blood donation camp or providing free medical help. Both leaders of JeM’s two splintered organizations – Khuddam ul-Islam and Jamaat ul-Furqan, headed by Masood Azhar and Abdul Jabbar respectively – have been detained on multiple occasions. In December 1999, Masood was released by the Indian government in exchange for passengers on the hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814 that had eventually landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, under Taliban control at the time. JeM members then went on to launch a deadly attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. JeM members have also been linked with the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002, an incident that later inspired the film A Mighty Heart. More recently, Masood Azhar was detained by Pakistani authorities in the wake of post-Pathankot pressure from India. However, despite house arrests, detainment and incarceration, the JeM leader not only roams free, but continues to spew jihadi venom against India with impunity.

More on this: India’s options for tackling terrorism

The Chinese decision to block India’s successive efforts against Masood Azhar at the international level highlights two harsh geopolitical realities facing India. First, China is deliberately using this as a way to strategically hedge against its own increasing rivalry with India, in both continental and maritime spheres. Second, it underscores the importance of China’s growing economic stake in Pakistan, most noticeably through the $51 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The rapprochement in China-Pakistan relations, sometimes described somewhat hyperbolically as being ‘taller than mountains and deeper than oceans’, continues.

China’s blockading tactics against India are not limited to the UNSC. Recently, China also prevented India’s bid to enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on the pretext that India is not a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). China would do well to remember that quite a few countries, including France, had their NSG membership precede their NPT ratification. China’s recent actions toward India are less to do with ‘technical’ reasons and more to do with undercutting a fast-emerging competitor’s access to global platforms.

By obstructing India’s quest to get a well-known terrorist onto the UN list, China’s strategy smacks of putting the cart before the horse. In ignoring terrorist elements from Pakistan in order to prioritise and maximise its economic interests, China might well be gambling on something the entire region may end up paying the price for in the long run. For now, China could well be gloating over the strategic brownie points, but the durability of such gains could be short-lived. For instance, how secure the CPEC will be, passing through one of the most volatile and terror-prone areas (the Kashgar-Gwadar highway), remains to be seen.

China’s continued constraining of India has caused geopolitical and geostrategic fault lines to emerge in Asia, resulting in a nuanced shifting of alliances between countries. China’s siding with Pakistan on such issues and US support for India, including its bid for a permanent seat on the UNSC as well as growing military cooperation between the two countries, have drawn clear pictures that signal regional recalibrations of the power dynamics in Asia.

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Mishra, Vivek. 2016. "China’S Calculative Diplomacy - Policy Forum". Policy Forum. http://www.policyforum.net/chinas-calculative-diplomacy/.

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