Earlier this week, for the fourth time, China has blocked India’s efforts to designate Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist under the United Nations (UN). Beijing’s effort represents just the latest blow to New Delhi’s efforts in this vein. While India has been making global efforts to isolate Pakistan diplomatically, its efforts at placing Azhar under the 1267 Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council has been yet again blocked by China.
To be sure, China’s action should not obscure the fact that the broader support base for India has gone up on this score. This is reflected in the number of co-sponsors of the proposal this time. The current proposal was initiated by France, the UK and the United States and co-sponsored by countries including Germany, Poland, Belgium, Italy, Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan, Equatorial Guinea, Japan and Australia.
Nonetheless, Beijing’s response is significant. China justified its action by saying that “our action is to make sure that the committee will have enough time to study the matter so that the relevant sides will have time for dialogue and consultation. 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.”
India’s official response was disappointed but calm. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), in a statement, said, “The ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee (1267 Sanctions Committee), upon completion of the no-objection period on 13 March 2019, was not able to come to a decision on the proposal for listing Mohammed Masood Azhar Alvi under the UN Sanctions regime, on account of a member placing the proposal on hold. We are disappointed by this outcome. This has prevented action by the international community to designate the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a proscribed and active terrorist organization which has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir on 14 February 2019.”
Irrespective of what India says publicly, this is proof, yet again, that China is not going to abandon its ironclad relationship with Pakistan. Neither is Beijing going to succumb to pressure from others such as the United States, France, the UK, Russia, and India to change its tack on Pakistan. About an hour before the expiry of the deadline for any member to raise objections, China put in place a “technical hold” meaning that the proposal will be on the hold for the next six months. Member countries can supply information over the next nine months for lifting the hold and Masood Azhar can be listed.
In the past, China has argued that there is “no contradiction” in its policies on terrorism such as in supporting the BRICS declaration against terrorism and its policy to Masood Azhar designation as a global terrorist because the BRICS declaration was addressing terrorist groups and not individuals. And to be sure, there is some logic to Beijing’s position: It is premised on balancing India by supporting Pakistan. Pakistan has remained China’s all-weather ally through more than five decades, and both Islamabad and Beijing worry about and balance against India.
From Pakistan’s perspective, India represents an existential threat. Pakistan’s primary strategic objective since the two nations were born has been to weaken India by any means necessary. For Beijing, India represents one of the few potential challengers to China’s dominance of Asia. Both have been clear and single-minded in their pursuit to weaken and balance India, which has made for one of the most durable and deepest strategic alignments since the 1950s. There is little likelihood that this will end any time soon, a reality that seems lost on India’s foreign policy elite.
It is unlikely that India will respond in any extreme, escalatory manner toward Beijing in the short term. The general elections next month occupy much of the government’s attention. Foreign policy issues are unlikely to play a big part in the campaign except for the ruling BJP chest-thumping on the Balakot strike against Pakistan. Moreover, India’s opposition parties, all to the left of the nationalist BJP, have few foreign policy ideas or critiques that have any traction. Calling Modi “weak” and “scared of Xi”, as Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the opposition Congress party has charged, is unlikely to suffice.
On the other hand, there is significant and vocal criticism in the Indian media of the “Wuhan spirit,” and the broader Sino-Indian reset in the aftermath of the Doklam confrontation in 2017. The Hindustan Times, a leading English-language national daily, editorialized that “the Wuhan exercise seems to have failed. Not just Pakistan-backed terrorism, China has not yielded ground on anything else.” Another newspaper has warned that bilateral ties could suffer because New Delhi feels betrayed. This has been matched on social media sites in India such as Twitter where #BoycottChineseProducts and #ChinaBacksTerrorism have been trending. Whether and how this will affect Indian policy towards China after the coming elections remains to be seen.