China does not want India to have a seat at the nuclear high table

Colonel Vivek Chadha
Colonel Vivek ChadhaJun 08, 2016 | 20:21

China does not want India to have a seat at the nuclear high table

The recent past has witnessed China take a position on more issues than one in direct conflict with India's national interest. To name just two of these, it blocked the intended ban against Jaish-i-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar at a UN Committee on the eve of April Fool's day in 2016. This was a repeat of an earlier attempt by India to ensure action against Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi of Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2015.


More recently, China has indicated its reservations regarding India's candidature for the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a body that contributes to nuclear non-proliferation. Purportedly, China assigns its position to India not signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which India has clearly indicated as "discriminatory". In reality, it wants Pakistan to slip through the opening created for India, despite their blatant nuclear proliferation record.

These actions would seem inexplicable for a country like China, which is on the cusp of achieving great power status and a potential challenger to the US. Its insistence on remaining astride a lame horse goes against the grain of rational world opinion, which evidently and justifiably visualises Pakistan as not only the foremost jehadi factory of the world, but also a nuclear proliferator. Why then would China not only bail out Pakistan from a difficult position, but also support an embarrassingly lost cause?

Beijing is scuttling New Delhi's chances at the nuclear high table.

China's actions must be seen from the perspective of a country which unlike other major powers is not blessed with a large number of allies and friends. It appreciates Pakistan for having stood by its side during years of isolation. This continues to drive Chinese gratitude for an ally that Pakistan has proved to be over the years.


Pakistan has also been bending backwards to facilitate Beijing's quest to achieve energy security through the Gwadar link in vicinity of the oil and gas markets of West Asia. This has further been strengthened through the road link that connects the two countries, providing China with critical connectivity into its relatively underdeveloped regions. In return Pakistan receives Chinese investments and military support, which is increasingly becoming the mainstay of its military capability aimed at India.

On the face of it, the relationship seems to be sailing the tranquil waters of mutual interest. However, a closer look will highlight certain misgivings emerging from China regarding the nature of relationship being pursued with Pakistan, especially given the self-destructive path that the country seems to have chartered.

First, terrorism which is being employed by Pakistan as state policy to contain India suits China as well. It keeps India busy fighting a slow bleed conflict with Pakistan, even as its threshold remains below the potential red lines drawn by India. However, Pakistan's policy of employing terrorism as a strategic weapon in Afghanistan is affecting China's commercial interests, where it has not been able to pursue its mining agenda and is threatened by export of terrorists into its weak underbelly of Xinjiang.


Similarly, the proliferation of these groups within Pakistan has endangered the safety and security of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) along with the $46 billion investment. Worse still, once China does make a substantial investment in Pakistan, it would have to further spend its already strained resources to protect its initial economic forays, an option it can ill afford at this juncture marked by a weakening economy. This could well give a body blow to its foremost initiative of One Belt One Road (OBOR) unveiled by Xi Jinping.

The uneasy Asian triangle: Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif.

Second, a famous idiom states that a "man is known by the company he keeps". This is equally true for nations. Major powers even like the US cannot pursue their strategic agenda without partner countries and allies, as has repeatedly been emphasised by senior leaders from the country. The arraignment of partner countries in respect of the two major powers in the Indo-Pacific reflects on the quality of their alignments.

In case of the US, this includes Japan, Australia, South Korea, Singapore, Philippines and increasingly India, though as a partner country. On the other hand, China is accompanied by the weight of Pakistan's failing status, record of using terrorism as state policy and nuclear proliferation history. This is hardly the kind of counterweight that a major power contender would want in its quest for seeking parity with the US.

These factors are starting to impact China's approach towards Pakistan. And in doing so, first, it is attempting to follow a more independent policy towards Afghanistan, rather than hanging on to Pakistan's coat tails. Second, its not so subtle hint with relation to terrorism was indicated by the state run television channel CCTV 9 airing the 26/11 documentary clearly nailing the role of LeT. For a country which speaks as much through discrete actions as through words, the writing is on the wall.

While it may still be early days to expect any major change in China's policy towards Pakistan, there is evidently a hint of shifting stance that seems to be accompanying its actions. A relationship that was once described as "sweeter than honey", seems to have been affected by just a tinge of sour taste. It is hoped that actions on the eve of April Fool's day that led to giving terrorism emanating from Pakistan a new lease of life, will be guided by more mature decision making in future, as will the decision to limit India's role in multilateral institutions.

Last updated: June 08, 2016 | 20:21
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