The technical hold of China at UNSC 1267 Committee came as a little surprise to India as it was China’s fourth ‘block’ on the voting proposal to impose sanctions on Jaish-e-Mohammed commander Masood Azhar. As per the statement of Foreign Ministry of China, “It (China) conducts thorough and in-depth assessment of these applications and we still need more time, so that is why we put forward the technical hold. Only a solution that is acceptable to all sides could fundamentally provide a chance for a lasting solution to the issue. China is ready to communicate and coordinate with all sides including India to properly handle this issue”.

But is the Chinese stand goes up well to its image of being the next superpower, or whether there are some cogent and compulsive geo-economic and geopolitical interests for such stance at  the UN in the context of such person who was apprehended by Indian Army and Jammu and Kashmir police in 1994 from the city of Anantnag and was imprisoned in Kot Bhalwal Jail in Jammu till 1999? In 1995, the first attempt to release him was made by a group named Al Faran through the kidnapping of six foreign tourists from Kashmir Valley. During his jail term, even FBI interrogated him several times for his role in the kidnappings. In December 1999, Indian Air Lines flight IC 814 was hijacked from Kathmandu and taken to Kandahar airport which was under Taliban control at that time; the hijacking was carried out mainly for the release of Masood Azhar.

Despite all of these instances, the Chinese authorities are asking for more proof for establishing the direct linkage of this man with terror acts carried out against India and making it a fit case for sanctions under UNSC resolution 1267. But apart from all these events Chinese have got their own ‘national interest’ behind this decision. In the 1980s, China jointly worked with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the US to help the Mujahideen against the Soviets. China supplied large quantities of arms and ammunition, as paid by the US and distributed by Pakistan to compete against the Soviet influence in the region. Further, in the 1990s, China was having a common stand with Pakistan in the context of the Taliban.  In his book “The China Pakistan Axis” Andrew Small has mentioned friendly relations of the Taliban with China, “in the early years of insurgency it appeared that the best way to reach a conclusion was to look at China’s road building projects, some of which were taking place in parts of the country where Taliban’s presence was growing. China’s work in the east of the country seemed to proceed remarkably untroubled by militant activity, and gave the Afghan government reason to believe that it might be operating under Taliban”. The corporate giants like ZTE and Huawei invested heavily in infrastructure projects in areas which were either dominated by the tribal warlords or the Taliban. The main reason for this policy stance was to maintain influence in Central Asia through Afghanistan.

The UNSC 1267 is basically meant to ban and impose sanctions on persons associated with Al Qaeda or Taliban and required to be directly or indirectly involved in terrorist activities. The Chinese have their own justification for denying Masood Azhar’s involvement with either Al Qaeda or the Taliban. In the 1990s, the apparent indifference of China to the Taliban hardliners was due to the problem in Xinjiang, the Chinese were happy as far as fundamentalists were not supporting the Uyghurs, especially from Afghanistan and Central Asian Countries, and expected that all such forces would remain passive towards the cause of the Uyghurs.

The most important factor for geo-economic interest is of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Projects (CPEC). The CPEC is the largest foreign investment in Pakistan by China originally amounting to more than 46 Billion US Dollars. One whole division of Pakistan Army has been deployed exclusively for the protection of CPEC projects. The Chinese have concerns that militant groups like Tehrik-e-Taliban might join hands with the Uyghurs and even attack the Chinese workers working on the project. The Pakistan Army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb to wipe out the threat of Tehrik-e-Taliban militants which would provide a secure environment for investment in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region. China does not wish to antagonize the fundamentalists inside Pakistan in order to make its ambitious transnational projects secure from militant attacks.

China has invested heavily in Gwadar port and Beijing considers it as an alternative route for the transportation of goods and hydrocarbon resources to its mainland. Till now, Chinese international sea-borne trade mainly passes through the Strait of Malacca which is a vulnerable choke point. India can easily blockade the strait using its forward naval base at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The strait is also vulnerable to blockade by the US Seventh Fleet and Australian Navy during the time of a crisis. The Gwadar project will allow Chinese energy imports to avoid these contentious areas and find an alternative supply route in the west, thereby minimizing the possibility of getting the supply line affected during the time of conflict.

In international politics, ideals may not always work and nations are mainly driven by their self-interests. Diplomatic initiatives are inspired by long term geo-economic and geopolitical interests, so India should not expect much to change in the diplomatic stand of China as far as its strategic and economic interest remain embedded in this strategically important area.

Image: [CC BY 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons

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