China put in peril its detente with India to save Azhar

China put in peril its detente with India to save Azhar

China's move to stall the latest initiative to bring Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar under United Nations' sanctions put in peril its delicate détente with India. 

China has since long been shielding Azhar and other terrorist leaders based in Pakistan from UN sanctions. But it disappointed New Delhi more than ever before on Wednesday, when its Permanent Mission at the UN in New York blocked the latest initiative to designate the JeM chief as an “individual” linked to Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda as well as the Taliban in Afghanistan.

New Delhi reached out to all the members of the Security Council over the past few weeks in order to drum up support to bring the JeM chief under international sanctions.

India also had “high-level” contacts with China and tried to convince the communist country on the need to fix the anomaly of having the JeM itself under UN sanctions, but not its founder leader, Azhar. Yet China remained the only holdout at the Security Council and put the process on “Technical Hold” just before the deadline for objecting to the move to impose sanction on the JeM chief ended. 

China's move disappointed India as it came just three-and-a-half-months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping had a meeting on the sideline of the G-20 summit at Buenos Aires. That was the last of the four meetings they had in 2018. The two leaders did note that 2018 was a good year for India-China relations and 2019 would be even better. 

Given the bonhomie between Prime Minister and Chinese President, New Delhi did expect that China might change its policy of shielding terrorists based in Pakistan from UN sanctions – particularly in the aftermath of the deadly terrorist attack at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir on February 14. 

The JeM, which is based in Pakistan and carries out attacks in India, claimed the responsibility of the attack that killed over 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel.

A day after the terror attack, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had a meeting with Beijing's envoy to New Delhi, Luo Zhaohui, and conveyed to him that India would expect China not only to join it to step up pressure on Pakistan to act against the JeM and other terrorist organizations based in its territory, but also to review its policy of shielding terrorists like Masood Azhar and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba operative Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi from UN sanctions. 

China, however, remained non-committal and even did its bit and made it sure that the text of the UNSC statement condemning the terror attack did not embarrass its “all-weather friend” Pakistan. 

During a meeting with his Indian and Russian counterparts, Sushma Swaraj and Sergey Lavrov, at Wuzhen in eastern China; Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi rather noted that Pakistan had all along been opposing terrorism.

India and China had a series of engagements throughout 2018 seeking to mend the bilateral ties, which had hit a new low over the 72-day-long military face-off at Doklam Plateau in western Bhutan in June-August 2017. An “informal summit” between Modi and Xi at Wuhan in central China on April 27 and 28 last year resulted in a thaw in bilateral relations. They also had three other meeting on the sideline of multilateral events after the “informal summit” in Wuhan and the one in Buenos Aires was the last one.

New Delhi and Beijing repeatedly invoked “Wuhan Spirit” as the two sides had engagements at different level throughout 2018. Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited China. Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan visited New Delhi and held meetings with his counterpart Suresh Prabhu. Sitharaman and Home Minister Rajnath Singh hosted Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and Chinese Public Security Minister Zhao Kezhi in New Dehi. Prime Minister's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval held boundary negotiations with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Both Doval and Wang Yi are Special Representatives of both the governments for boundary negotiations. Swaraj hosted Wang in New Delhi in December for the launch of an India-China mechanism for people-to-people exchange.

Yet the “Wuhan Spirit” disappeared at the Horseshoe Table of the UN Security Council when it came to imposing sanctions on the JeM chief.

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