Is China rethinking its terror double-game?
It is hard to say so definitely but there are certainly hints of at least some unease at its current stand.
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China frequently rails at the West for its “double standards” on terrorism, when it comes under pressure from Western countries and human rights groups over its crackdowns in its western Xinjiang region.
But Beijing has perhaps done more to undermine its own arguments than any Western country. Driven by the calculus of its “all weather” relations with Pakistan - and more recently, by its deepening economic investments in that country - China has risked its largely improving relations with India by batting to shield Pakistani terrorists against sanctions, even in the face of clear evidence.
That strategy has now come under increasing doubts, most surprisingly even in China, with some questioning — rightly even if overdue — why China was jeopardising ties with its most important neighbour over a terrorist. The UN Security Council 1267 committee, which has already proscribed the Jaish-e-Mohammed, last year refused to sanction its leader, Masood Azhar, because China, as one of the committee’s 15 members, repeatedly placed a “technical hold” seeking more information - a puzzling request when the same committee proscribed Azhar’s own organization.
Few in China publicly criticize the government on foreign policy. Which was what made a recent article by one of its most respected former diplomats all the more striking. Writing last month on his blog, Mao Siwei, a prominent strategic expert and former diplomat, wrote: “First, is Azhar a terrorist? Second, was the Pathankot attack perpetrated by the Jaish-e-Mohammed group? To the first question, the answer should be yes.”Photo: Indiatoday.in
He added: “I deeply feel that now is the time China should take India's complaint as an opportunity to seriously study and adjust the position, get rid of the passive diplomatic situation on the listing of the JeM chief at the UN 1267 committee.”
That issue, perhaps even more so than China’s reservations on India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group where it was, in truth, not alone in voicing concerns about changing the group’s rules to admit India, severely eroded relations last year, at a time when many in both Delhi and Beijing would much rather focus on issues such as deepening investments and taking forward trade ties.
Will China rethink its position on terror? It is hard to say so definitely but there are certainly hints of at least some unease at its current stand. Pakistani media reported late last year that Beijing had even questioned Islamabad about the logic of repeatedly blocking holds on a character that most even in China see as extremely disagreeable, to say the least.
There is also growing discomfort in China, at a time when both the number of its investments and personnel in Pakistan is growing, about the security situation there. One of the first acts of the recently appointed new ISI chief was to travel quietly to Beijing, according to sources here, to assure the Chinese.
In recent days, there have been suggestions that Chinese prodding may have had something to do with the recent move by Pakistani authorities to once again put the Mumbai attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed under so-called “house arrest”.
On February 3, Beijing didn’t outright deny that it had any role in doing so, only saying somewhat ambiguously that it “supports Pakistan in independently formulating and implementing counter-terrorism measures.”
Interestingly, Beijing announced the same day that in coming days, China’s State Commissioner for Counter-terrorism Cheng Guoping will travel to Pakistan.
But whether or not this means Beijing is finally moving towards abandoning its own “double standards” is too soon to tell. The proof of the pudding after all is in the eating, and that will only be revealed when the case of a Pakistani terrorist next comes up at the UN, and if Beijing finally abandons its risky strategy of turning a blind eye to terror to protect its short-term interests.