What happened to ‘Wuhan spirit’?

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, left, and China's Premier Li Keqiang attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. PTI

The Chinese government’s strong endorsement of Pakistani positions on India-Pakistan issues should raise alarm in Delhi. The joint statement issued at the end of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to China is robust in its “support to Pakistan’s commitment and efforts to counter terrorism.” This is clearly not just Pakistani but also Chinese duplicity. As countries like India and Afghanistan know through experience, not only has Pakistan done nothing to dismantle the infrastructure of anti-India terror on its soil but also, its support to such terror has intensified over the past year. Only a few months ago, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping met for an ‘informal summit’ at Wuhan, the two sides agreed on steps to reset bilateral relations derailed by the Doklam crisis. The process of rapprochement apparently set in motion at this summit, which came to be described as the ‘Wuhan spirit’, was expected to guide their relations. The recent China-Pakistan joint statement therefore casts a large shadow on the ‘Wuhan spirit’. China has applauded Pakistan’s “efforts to counter terrorism,” and chided countries for supposedly politicising the UN process of blacklisting terrorists — a clear dig at India’s campaign to have Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar listed as a terrorist. This is an affront to India’s genuine concerns over Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. In addition, China has supported Pakistan’s engagement with the Nuclear Suppliers Group and welcomed its “adherence” to NSG guidelines.

China’s close ties with Pakistan aren’t new and go back several decades. Top-level visits routinely see the two sides gush about their ‘all-weather ties’ and, indeed, bilateral co-operation is substantial. Still, ever since Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 visit to China, Beijing had adopted, at least publicly, a position of “non-interference” in the subcontinent’s affairs. That position has now been dropped, with China explicitly backing Pakistan in a formal joint statement. In the past, China would have simply urged the two sides to improve bilateral ties but in the recent joint statement, Beijing says it “appreciates Pakistan’s quest for peace through dialogue, cooperation and negotiation…for settlement of outstanding disputes (read Kashmir) between the two countries.” Beijing’s commitment to rapprochement with India is clearly not as strong as the Modi government imagined it to be. Was the ‘Wuhan spirit’ oversold to us?

Khan’s visit to China, which came amidst domestic chaos in his country, was plugged at home as necessary to secure quick loans and investments from the Chinese to pull the economy out of crisis. It was not successful in this regard. Beijing made no concrete commitments and the joint statement was silent on any assistance package. In effect, Khan returned home empty-handed on these issues. China’s explicit support to Pakistan on India-Pakistan issues is therefore doubly worrying. 

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What happened to ‘Wuhan spirit’?

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