View: Masood Azhar episode could lead to a recalibration of Sino-Indian ties

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View: Masood Azhar episode could lead to a recalibration of Sino-Indian tiesBY ARVIND GUPTA

As was expected, China once again put a technical hold at the UN Security Council 1267 Committee, thereby blocking the designation of Masood Azhar, the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad, as a global terrorist on flimsy grounds.

The Chinese action has caused considerable disappointment in India. On February 21, the UNSC had issued a statement condemning the Pulwama terrorist attack. This had raised hope that China might this time reconsider the use of technical hold on Masood Azhar enlisting. That was not to be so.

The entire world including China knows that Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba are key instruments of Pakistan’s policy to bleed India through a thousand cuts. China’s indifference to the listing of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief as a global terrorist would seem to indicate that China implicitly backs Pakistan’s policy of supporting cross-border terrorism against India.

The Chinese action to bail out Pakistan on terrorism should be seen in the context of the deep “all-weather” China-Pakistan strategic partnership which was reaffirmed during Chinese vice minister’s visit to Pakistan in the first week of March. The $60-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the most developed and visible part of the Belt and Road Initiative, which is a signature project of President Xi Jinping. The CPEC and the Gwadar Port in Balochistan give China strategically vital outlet access into the Indian Ocean. China continues to supply a large quantity of arms, nuclear and missiles assistance to Pakistan. The Chinese technical hold in the UNSC committees shows that China-Pakistan nexus is strong and will continue to grow in the future as well.

What impact will these developments have on Sino-Indian relations?

India and China had a military standoff at Dokalam in 2017. Innovative diplomacy on both sides managed to recover the strained relationship. At Wuhan, PM Modi and President Xi held an informal summit to reset the relationship. The Chinese indifference to India’s concerns on terrorism is likely to deliver a further setback to the so-called Wuhan spirit. India may have to re-examine whether the Wuhan spirit can still prevail after China’s unhelpful action at the UNSC.

Bilateral relationship has many unresolved issues. No tangible progress has been made to resolve the longstanding boundary question. China has shown no urgency in this regard. It has also been blocking India’s membership in the Nuclear Supply Group at Pakistan’s behest. Pairing India with Pakistan is uncalled for considering Pakistan has been at the forefront of nuclear proliferation in stark contrast to India’s impeccable record in this area.

Chinese companies make tens of billions of dollars every year from India on account of the $60-billion trade balance in favour of China in an $89-billion bilateral trade. In contrast, China’s economic and commercial relationship with Pakistan is meagre. If Sino-Indian relationship sours, Chinese exports to India will suffer. There could be a potential negative fallout for the Chinese companies.

Public opinion in India, inflamed by repeated cross-border terrorist attacks, would expect resolute action by the government to ensure that China does not keep on supporting Pakistan on terrorism directly or indirectly. There is already a growing feeling that Chinese companies cannot continue to make massive profits while the Chinese government continues to look the other way, thereby essentially condoning Pakistan’s support to terrorism.

China should understand that Pulwama terrorist attack has generated a lot of anguish in India. The Masood Azhar episode may lead to a recalibration of Sino-Indian relations. Mere expression of disappointment with China would not satisfy public opinion. Both countries will need to go back to the drawing board to reconfigure bilateral relations.

(The author is Former Deputy NSA)