On Tuesday, China blocked an Indian bid to question Pakistan at the United Nations sanctions committee (per resolution 1267) over the release of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a commander in Lashkar-e-Taiba, an anti-India terror group, and a central planner in the November 2008 terror attack on Mumbai which claimed over 160 lives. Lakhvi was released on bail by a Pakistani court in April, a move that India alleged was in violation of resolution 1267. China’s justification for blocking the Indian request—which sought clarification from Pakistan over Lakhvi’s release—was that India “failed to provide enough information.” The move is the latest in a series of recent moves by China to block or stall Indian proposals on countering or sanctioning Pakistan-based terrorism.
Though seemingly a bureaucratic snub from Beijing, the action has understandably stirred a hornet’s nest of negativity in India—Lakhvi’s connection to the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, one of the worst terrorist incidents in recent Indian history, has ensured that the incident received top billing in the Indian press. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was in Beijing just over a month ago, conveyed his concerns to the Chinese government after the fact. The Times of India reported that the matter had been addressed to “the Chinese leadership” directly from Modi, who emphasized the issue of Lakhvi’s release as an “emotive issue for Indians.” A spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, in a statement, outlined the Indian government’s response:
The government had taken up the issue of violation of the 1267 sanctions regime in respect of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. Our concerns in this matter were conveyed to the Chair of the 1267 Committee. We also raised this bilaterally with the other members of the Committee. In the case of China, this matter has been taken up at the highest level.
China’s move to block UN action is particularly remarkable given how reserved it has been in the past in being seen as the sole standout on an issue within the permanent five (P5) members of the security council. China’s move was procedural within the UN sanctions committee, but it still stood in sharp opposition to the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Russia—all of whom were ready to entertain the Indian proposal. China’s effective “veto” on the matter should emphasize the extent to which Beijing is willing to publicly underwrite the Pakistani government’s approach to terrorism. Over the UN’s 70 year history, China has used its veto power at the security council just 10 times, making it the least obstructive member of the P5.
Indian reactions to the Chinese move have been understandably negative. Numerous commentators and analysts have remarked that China’s move shows that Beijing will continue to support Pakistan, regardless of Indian sensitivities. As Nitin Pai, director of The Takshashila Institution, a Bangalore-based think tank, notes, the episode highlights the necessity of New Delhi and Beijing liaising on important UN votes. The episode highlights the extent to which closer relations between India and China will be limited by Beijing’s interests in shielding Pakistan from international scrutiny.
China has in the past blocked India’s bids to get Jamaat-ud-Dawa (the political arm of Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan) added to the United Nations Security Council’s terror list three times (JuD was finally added to the sanctions list in December 2008). As leaked U.S. State Department cables revealed in 2010, China placed “technical holds” at Pakistan’s request to block UNSC sanctions against Lashkar-e-Taiba and the al-Akhtar Trust (a charity front for Jaish-e-Mohammad, designated as a terrorist support organization by the United States). A similar “technical hold” was put in place in the case of India’s request to list Syed Salahuddin, a terrorist wanted in connection with numerous Hizbul Mujahideen attacks. Thus, China has a history of shielding Pakistan-based terror groups from sanctions under resolution 1267.
Beijing’s position on this issue is opaque, with few public statements or remarks on why China continues to block Indian requests on Pakistan-based terror. In an interview with the Press Trust of India in September 2014, China’s ambassador to India, Le Yucheng, noted that China’s position was that “China, India and Pakistan ought to work together to deal with the problem of terrorism and root out the cause of terrorism.” Borrowing a line verbatim from Pakistan’s diplomatic playbook, Le noted that “Pakistan is also a victim of terrorism.”
In their joint statement last month, Modi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang marked their joint resolve against terrorism and “urged all countries and entities to work sincerely to disrupt terrorist networks and their financing, and stop cross-border movement of terrorists.” For China to walk the talk, it needs to reconsider its intransigence at the United Nations for Pakistan’s benefit. Going forward, New Delhi and Beijing will have to broach this topic at the highest levels.