Jabin T Jacob
India failed yet again to have Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Masood Azhar sanctioned because of a ‘technical hold’ by China at the UN Security Council’s 1267 Committee. Minister of State for External Affairs Gen (retd) VK Singh chose the occasion to send out a tweet asking if China’s stance was ‘a reflection of the soft position of some leaders & political parties’ implying, of course, Indian opposition leaders and parties.
Singh’s ill-advised tweet is a clear indication of this government’s political priorities focused on settling domestic political scores in election season and a preference to deal with Pakistan — clearly the more profitable issue from an electoral point of view — rather than the longer-term and harder challenge of China.
The MEA statement in response to the outcome of 1267 Committee meeting did not even name China directly as being responsible. This, when on previous occasions, MEA statements have actually criticised China by name. Instead of taking a consistent position on China, the minister has decided to milk the occasion for domestic politics by imputing motives to his party’s political opponents.
This has an impact on how the rest of the world sees India’s terrorism problem and the seriousness with which it wishes to deal with it through international cooperation. No world capital will want to weigh in on New Delhi’s side if it means getting involved in Indian domestic politics or if it sees the issue as one not between two nuclear-armed neighbours but as one between two religious communities.
Contrast this to China’s language in its official statements. This is consistent and carefully crafted to give the very impression of reasonableness — talking of conducting ‘thorough and in-depth assessment’, of its position being ‘in line’ with the ‘rules of the (1267) Committee’, its ‘sincere hopes’ that actions taken by the committee will lead to ‘dialogue and consultation to solve the problem’, and so on.
In other words, while very obviously and consistently taking the side of Pakistan on matters related to the latter’s sponsoring of terrorism, Beijing has simultaneously and confidently engaged in the exercise of trying to build up its image among neutral observers. The official record and the note for propaganda, as it were, are one and the same and it takes much experience of the Chinese for neutral observers to figure out just how hypocritical China’s positions are.
More seriously and to return to foreign policy, because India does not challenge such Chinese image-building consistently, this actually affects perceptions about India and other democracies in the international influence stakes for it effectively allows China act in global institutions without cost for its practices of coercion at home and abroad.
Take for example, terrorism itself.
In China’s Xinjiang, any form of dissent by the Uyghur Muslim minority even if not violent in nature is labelled as extremism or terrorism. This ignores the fact that the Uyghur problem is essentially a political one involving complaints against ethnic discrimination, lack of respect for their cultural and religious rights, and concerns over economic discrimination and for which the Chinese State bears responsibility.
In India, if violence resulted out of these factors, it would properly be called an ‘insurgency’ since this was not externally-sponsored or -supported. Only in the latter case, such as where Pakistan is involved in instigating violence against the Indian State and citizens, is it actually called ‘terrorism’. In China, where violent resistance has taken place on a few occasions and where external support has been proven, it has actually come from Pakistan more often than not. On such occasions Beijing has minced no words with Pakistan in demanding the arrest and handover of Uyghur suspected of violence.
Therefore, there is a clear case of Chinese double standards, here.
Meanwhile, India has engaged with China regularly in the ‘Hand-in-Hand’ anti-terror exercises over the same period that China has consistently blocked Indian efforts against Pakistan at the UNSC. These exercises are admittedly at a low level and of little operational value but it is worth noting that the Chinese are engaged in anti-terror exercises also with the Pakistani army.
In January, India and China also concluded their eighth round of joint working group meetings on counter-terrorism with little available in the public domain in terms of results so far.
By engaging with Beijing in these efforts, however, New Delhi is effectively signing on to the Chinese definition of terrorism and handing them a propaganda victory.
China not only has its cake but is eating it too, at India’s expense.
Jabin T Jacob is associate professor, Department of International Relations and Governance Studies, Shiv Nadar University, and adjunct research fellow, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. Twitter: @jabinjacobt. Views are personal.
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