It is a bit of good advice that India and China should develop their relations without keeping in mind any third country but Xi reached India after meeting Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan in Beijing where he expressed China’s support to Pakistan on core issues (read Kashmir) citing UN Charter and resolutions.
By Raj Kumar Sharma
Chinese President Xi Jinping has left India after holding second informal summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Mamallapuram. The sketchy details of their meeting are out in the public domain and none of them points to the elephant in the room – Pakistan. It is a bit of good advice that India and China should develop their relations without keeping in mind any third country but Xi reached India after meeting Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan in Beijing where he expressed China’s support to Pakistan on core issues (read Kashmir) citing UN Charter and resolutions. However, China tends to ignore the fact that its flagship initiative, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has changed the status quo in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir which is against the spirit of the UN resolutions, it cites. In addition, China was not even a party to the UNSC resolution passed in 1948 on Kashmir as it joined the UN as a permanent member in 1971.
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Despite having some limitations, China-Pakistan relations are often called ‘all-weather friendship’ while Pakistani experts resort to flattery saying the relationship is higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, sweeter than honey and stronger than steel. Pakistan sees China as a security guarantee against India while China’s strategic view towards Pakistan is explained by Sun Tzu, China’s ancient master strategist, often compared with a realist from ancient India, Kautilya. Sun Tzu has argued that to subdue a rival, it is a good option to ‘kill with a borrowed knife’. Hence, China would like to avoid confronting India directly and prop up Pakistan to keep India off-balance. This confines India as a country fighting Pakistan for regional supremacy and thwarts India’s rise as a global power where it could challenge the Chinese.
China-Pakistan relationship is an unholy alliance between a veto-power country which is yet to learn to respect diversity (Muslims) and a country which proclaims itself to be the voice of Muslims but has nothing to say about China’s repression of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. To stop internationalisation of the Xinjiang problem, China uses not only Pakistan but also has a soft spot for anti-India terrorists like Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar. India’s growing maritime security cooperation with the US and rise of a new geopolitical term, Indo-Pacific makes China nervous and pushes Beijing to increase its security relations with Pakistan to balance India’s proximity to the US. As far as terrorism is concerned, India has to keep one thing in mind. Most of the important countries, including the US, see India’s concerns on cross-border terrorism as a problem specific to India. The US, although, has killed many Taliban leaders using drones in Pakistan but what stops them from targeting someone like Hafiz Saeed with similar methods? Since India is probably the only country which does not distinguish between a good terrorist and a bad terrorist, New Delhi will get limited support on terrorism from major powers and will have to develop capabilities to fight this battle on its own.
There are some limitations to China Pakistan relations. Despite Pakistan’s willingness, China has been reluctant to turn it into an alliance. One can call it a relationship with Chinese characteristics as Pakistan has to seek a USD 6 billion loan from IMF despite their all-weather wealthy friend China standing by their side. India has been making efforts to dent China-Pakistan relations and one of the probable reasons why India became a member of BRICS was that it allowed India to play a global role along with China. This in some way de-hyphenates India from Pakistan as Islamabad has nothing substantial to show when asked about its contribution to global governance.
Surprisingly, Sun Tzu can show some way to India on how to deal with China-Pakistan nexus. Sun Tzu had said that ‘appear weak when you are strong and strong when you are weak’. Deng Xiaoping later modified this to ‘hide your strength, bide your time’. China used this very efficiently against the West and now, they are challenging the US as they feel years of economic growth have given them sufficient military capabilities to contest the US. India too should focus on its economy, which would be critical for its military modernization. If managed well, the Indian economy will allow India to keep the growing military gap between India and China in check. In the middle to long-term, China would realise the futility of wasting an economic opportunity by antagonizing India on its core issues. It may look almost impossible now, but, there may be a day when India could give access to China through its territory for trade with Africa, West Asia and beyond. In that case, a problem infested CPEC would lose its significance.
(The author is Consultant, Faculty of Political Science, IGNOU, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.)