Musings from afar

Why China can’t be India’s friend

Given Beijing's strategy of scuttling New Delhi's rise, the country should prepare itself for a long-term rivalry with the dragon.

 |  Musings from afar  |  5-minute read |   04-11-2017
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Surprise, surprise! China for the fourth time blocked India, the US and other nations’ bid to list Pathankot terror attack mastermind Masood Azhar as a global terrorist, arguing that “there is no consensus” within the members of the sanctions committee.

New Delhi’s reaction was pointed. “Deeply disappointed that once again a single country blocked international consensus on the designation of an acknowledged terrorist Masood Azhar. India strongly believes that double standards will only undermine international community’s resolve to combat terrorism,” the ministry of external affairs stated “India hopes there will be realisation that accommodating with terrorism for narrow objectives is shortsighted and counterproductive.”


China was the only member in the 15-nation UN Security Council last year to put a hold on India’s application despite all the other members supporting New Delhi’s bid to place Azhar on the 1,267 sanctions list that would subject him to an assets freeze and travel ban.

Despite the latest block, Beijing’s chutzpah is to be admired. It has gone ahead to suggest that it is “ready to work with India to promote constant progress of bilateral relations guided by this diplomacy with Chinese characteristics for the new era,” by highlighting China’s efforts at making consistent efforts to promote bilateral relations and develop mutual political trust with its neighbours over the past few years.

The BRICS declaration of 2017 issued at Xiamen, China, had generated significant euphoria in India. The 43-page declaration, adopted by the five-member states of the BRICS grouping, took a strong stance against terrorism for the first time since its inception, expressing “concern” over the security situation in the region and the violence caused by the Taliban, ISIS, Al Qaeda and its affiliates including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), Jaish e-Mohammad (JeM), Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Hizbut-Tahrir.

This was a remarkable turnaround for a grouping that was unwilling to talk to groups like LeT and JeM based in Pakistan until last year. At the 2016 Goa summit of BRICS, China had led the way in scuttling any mention of these groups in the declaration despite India making it a priority issue. This had caused considerable dismay in India with many observers questioning the very utility of BRICS platform for India as even on issues like terrorism there was little or no convergence among the five member states.

This year’s BRICS summit happened under the shadow of Sino-Indian standoff at Doklam and so China’s acceptance of India’s case has come as a surprise to many. New Delhi successfully managed to convey its strong feelings on the issue of terrorism to Beijing and Xi Jinping, who wanted to make the BRICS summit a success, had no compunction in taking on the issue as part of the declaration.



Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang justified his country’s stand by suggesting that with this declaration, BRICS countries have “shown their concerns to the violent activities raised by these organisations… These organisations are all sanctioned by the UN Security Council and have a significant impact on Afghanistan issue,” Geng underlined.

That Pakistan saw this as a real challenge was evident in foreign minister Khawaja Asif’s remarks: “We (Pakistan) need to break our false image. We have no stake but there is baggage. We need to accept the history and correct ourselves.” Islamabad was worried about China’s stance and Asif made it clear that Pakistan needed “to tell our friends that we have improved our house. We need to bring our house in order to prevent facing embarrassment on an international level.”

While there is much to commend in the way Indian diplomacy managed to get Chinese support on this issue and the likely pressure it put on Pakistan to clean up its act, it should have also been evident that it won’t change much on the ground in so far as Sino-Pak ties were concerned.

Days after the declaration, Beijing assured Pakistan that there is “no change” in its policy with Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Sun Weidong underscoring that “the BRICS declaration mentioned organisations which are already banned.”


Pakistan’s foreign minister too paid a visit to China when he was reassured by the Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, that “there has been no change in Chinese policy regarding Pakistan... Pakistan and China are in constant contact regarding regional challenges”. He further stressed that China supports Pakistan’s stand on terror.

The two nations also joined hands to rebuff the Trump Administration’s new Afghanistan policy. Taking a contrary stand to that of Trump, Wang suggested that Pakistan has not been given “full credit” for its efforts to battle terrorism by “some countries.” Weng said, “When it comes to the issue of counterterrorism, we believe Pakistan has done its best with a clear conscience. In comparison, some countries need to give Pakistan the full credit it deserves.”

Given China and Pakistan’s close ties, this should hardly be a surprise. China’s support for the BRICS declaration was merely a tactical ploy to make the summit a success given New Delhi’s categorical stand on the issue but its long-term strategic interest has always been to build Pakistan as an equal to India to block New Delhi’s ascent in global hierarchy. And that long-term strategy is not going to change anytime soon.

With its recent action on Masood Azhar’s case, China has once again made it clear that it doesn’t see good Sino-Indian relations as a priority. It is guided by its short-term tactic of scuttling India’s regional and global rise. India should prepare itself economically, militarily, and diplomatically for a long-term rivalry with China.

 (Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Also read: Doklam standoff may be dusted, but China will strike India hard


Harsh V Pant Harsh V Pant

The writer is Professor of International Relations at King's College London. His most recent book is India's Afghan Muddle (HarperCollins).

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