Call it home truths, if you will. After much-hyped hometown diplomacy by the leaders of India and China, the first time at Sabarmati Asharam in Gandhinagar and then at Xian, the city of famed Terracotta Warriors, home truths are staring New Delhi as it engages Beijing. Barely weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping rolled out the red carpet for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, conjuring up a seductive narrative of major power relations and all that sweet talk of an Asian Century, Beijing is now drawing its own red lines. And this red line is definitely a red rag to New Delhi.
Red Lines and Red Rag
Belying Beijing’s talk of jointly countering terrorism, the Chinese representative has blocked India’s move in the UN demanding action against Pakistan for releasing the Mumbai mayhem mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi from jail on the ground that India has not provided “sufficient information”. The legal subterfuge deployed by China to shield Pakistan’s action (or lack of action against the architect of 26/11) reinforces the red line drawn by Beijing in its relations with New Delhi. Put simply, it means that China is ready to pump in $20 billion into India, build industrial parks and smart infrastructure, but if it means going against its trusted client state Pakistan, India better take a reality check.
Types of Terrorists?
China’s latest naysaying at the UN on an issue of critical interest to India’s ongoing battle against terrorism and pursuit of justice for 26/11 victims only reaffirms some home truths about the conflicted nature of India-China relations which no amount of grandiose rhetoric can attenuate. For one thing, China will defend a friend, right or wrong, and if it means alienating Pakistan for pleasing India, Just Forget It! China will, therefore, take on those terrorists like that of the Uighur variety, but will continue to be soft on terrorists like Lakhvi, who are bred by Pakistan’s powerful military establishment. It’s too bad if Lakhvi was involved in the slaughter of innocents in India’s financial hub (Beijing would have launched a few missiles if it was Shanghai!) – what matters for Beijing is standing by its all-weather friend even if it means shielding a savage terrorist from the UN sanctions! In this kind of equivocation, Beijing and Islamabad are in perfect step: for Pakistan too, there are two kinds of terrorists; those who threaten Pakistan itself are to be killed, but those who target India are to be indulged, funded and lionised!
The Chinese Dream
Secondly, China will be ruthlessly pragmatic and amoral in pursuit of its national interests and what it has identified as core sovereignty interests. There is no place for conventional morality in realpolitik. Right now, there is a lot riding for Beijing on the fructification of its grand project of “One Belt, One Road,” which is being packaged as a trans-regional connectivity project, but is in reality an expression of the Chinese Dream of reclaiming China’s regional and international pre-eminence. The $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a crucial piece of OBOR/MSR jigsaw puzzle. If parts of the Economic Corridor pass through the disputed areas of Gilgit-Baltistan, it’s too bad for India, in Beijing’s view.
India can object, but that will not deflect China from its stated goals. It is this cynical calculation about India’s posture – India can only protest and object – that emboldens Beijing to challenge New Delhi on issues of critical interest to India. India, however, can’t be cowed down by such tactics. Prime Minister Modi is understood to have conveyed his concerns over the Lakhvi issue to the Chinese leadership In his own firm no-nonsense way, Mr Modi took care to draw red lines in the Great Hall of People, with the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang standing by his side. “I stressed the need for China to reconsider its approach on some of the issues that hold us back from realising the full potential of our partnership,” said Mr Modi. The latest action by China in the UN may not constitute “some of the issues” underlined by Mr Modi, but China should know that the Chinese Dream can’t bloom by trampling on others’ sensitivities. And such ambivalence on terror by the continent’s most powerful economy can only defer the realisation of an Asian Century.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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