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In the aftermath of the Pulwama suicide attack and the developments thereafter, China has been the target of substantial public anger in India. There are many reasons why this is happening; the most important one being China’s repeated blocking of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions concerning designation of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist, thus creating leeway for Pakistan to escape greater international scrutiny. For the fourth time now, China has put such an initiative on what it calls, “technical hold” based on “inadequate information”. In fact, it continues to treat Pakistan as a responsible country and a victim of terrorism.


It can be argued that China has three approaches as far as the question of terrorism is concerned: one being the domestic approach with respect to Xinjiang; the second being vis-à-vis Pakistan, in the context of its domestic concerns; and the third being linked to its geopolitical outlook, discussed below in more detail. The only way India can get China to support its case against state-sponsored terrorism and to vote on banning Jaish-e-Mohammed is to expose this contradiction. This paradox also exposes China’s search for status in the international order as a responsible rising power.


The Domestic Scenario


Domestically, China runs a highly watertight campaign as well as propaganda machinery against what it calls the three evils of “religious extremism, ethnic splittism, and violent separatism”. Its internal security budget has been consistently higher than national defence budget and has also grown at a much faster rate in the last one decade. This trend has continued until 2018 and as a consequence, China’s internal security budget has actually tripled since 2007.  In the case of Xinjiang, the provincial security budget rose tenfold between 2007 and 2017 from 5.45 billion RMB to 57.95 billion RMB. It also utilizes an extensive digital surveillance system, in terms of location tracking, access to phone data and search histories to identify search patterns and potential disturbances. It also runs an extensive network of “re-education centres” or what are known as detention camps in Xinjiang, where more than 1 million Uighurs are alleged to have been detained.


The Pakistan Paradox


It is noteworthy that most of the terrorism-related incidents in Xinjiang in the last five years have taken place in southern Xinjiang, which shares its borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). The unrest in Xinjiang questions China’s projection of harmonious development and challenges the objective of stability, which has been the principal objective of the Chinese government. It has consistently promoted the twin objectives of “leapfrogging development” and “promoting stability”. China is aware that Pakistan is the main source of extremism in Xinjiang. Even then, it remains a principal ally of Pakistan and has avoided public naming and shaming of Pakistan.


Pakistan is also a major beneficiary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with one of its major arms connecting China and Pakistan, via Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has been designated as the flagship of the BRI project. It is now widely agreed that besides other objectives, the CPEC is an incentive for Pakistan to sever linkages between extremism in Xinjiang and its ideological motivation coming from Pakistan and beyond. CPEC is the natural extension of China’s search for stability; China’s willingness to invest huge sums of its money in a terrorism-affected state is symptomatic of the necessity that it faces in Pakistan. Pakistan helps China control terrorism in Xinjiang and pursue its strategic objectives of access to Afghanistan and the Indian Ocean as well as to limit India within South Asia.


Ignoring Indian Concerns


When it comes to Indian priorities, China skits taking sides. On the one hand, the Russia-India-China trilateral statement reinforced the need to eradicate the “breeding grounds of terrorism”. On the other hand, it has continued to advocate the “need to show restraint” and calling terrorism “a complex issue…(wherein one needed to) address the symptom and the root causes of terrorism.” This apparently neutral position sounds dreadfully similar to Pakistan’s standard response on the question of cross-border terrorism. Also, in a clear criticism of India’s response viz. Balakot, China has also argued that “sovereignty must be respected under all circumstances.” Moreover, it praised Pakistan for showing maximum restraint.


China has also repeatedly offered to mediate between India and Pakistan, especially in the last four years, indicating that the CPEC has changed China’s priorities in South Asia. Its greater willingness to broker peace and help deescalate tensions is a testament to its keenness to play a bigger role than anyone has yet asked of it. Nevertheless, India has always resisted a third party mediation on the Kashmir issue.


In this context, it would be worthwhile to ask as to what India’s options are to get China to agree with Indian concerns on cross-border terrorism. First of all, China is extremely conscious of criticism on issues that portray it as an irresponsible stakeholder in global governance. India can continue to highlight the dichotomy of Chinese posture on the global stage because China is keen to be accepted as a responsible stakeholder.


In order to be acknowledged as a responsible player in the international system, China has made several commitments in the recent past. It has done so in the case of climate change after facing criticism, especially over its rising emissions, as well as after seeing an opportunity in climate action domestically and internationally. Since China has yet again put a technical hold against France-sponsored UNSC resolution, it is likely to be pushed into the corner. India, on the other hand, should work towards building upon what was highlighted in the Wuhan consensus and the subsequent flurry of “civilizational exchanges” between the two countries during October to December 2018. China must address India’s core concerns as a reciprocal gesture; otherwise, the achievements in Wuhan would appear oversold.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view of Manipal Advanced Research Group.