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India's Pakistan policy runs into China's Great Wall

By Rajeev Sharma
April 21, 2016 09:14 IST
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'China knows the best way of twisting the knife in its dealings with India: By launching a major incursion into Indian territory,' says Rajeev Sharma.

Chinese President Xi Jinping greets Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Beijing.

IMAGE: Chinese President Xi Jinping greets Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Beijing.

 

India seems to have run into the Great China Wall in its diplomatic attempts to talk China out of backing its all-weather friend Pakistan on the terror issue. Indications are that China will continue to rebuff India every now and then on matters pertaining to Pakistan.

This is a worrying sign for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government which will complete two years in office on May 26.

The Chinese have heard strong pitches made by two key Indian ministers on New Delhi's reservations about the Chinese policy of bailing out Pakistan on the issue of terror before world bodies like the United Nations, but have not held out any assurances to the Indians, thus giving important signals that this Chinese policy would continue.

Two Cabinet ministers have taken up with China in the past three days the issue of the Chinese 'hidden veto' before the United Nations Sanctions Committee in blocking the Indian move seeking action against Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azhar.

While External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj took up the issue with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow on the sidelines of the RIC foreign ministers' trilateral meeting, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar broached the subject with his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan during his maiden visit to China.

Another important Indian official, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who is in China and has just held the 19th round of Special Representatives-level talks with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, is inevitably set to discuss the Azhar issue with his Chinese interlocutors even more substantively even though official versions may downplay it.

Doval is also scheduled to have a strategic dialogue with his Chinese interlocutors as he is visiting China not merely as SR, but in a much more exalted position as Prime Minister Modi's special envoy.

Doval's strategic dialogue with the Chinese, being held after a gap of over one year, will feature an in-depth discussion on the China-Pakistan relationship which has a direct impact on India-China ties.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj holds talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Moscow, April 18, 2016. Photograph: MEAphotogallery on Flickr.

IMAGE: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj holds talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Moscow, April 18, 2016. Photograph: MEAphotogallery on Flickr.

While top Chinese officials have talked about India and the need to have the best relations with India in glowing terms at their meetings with Swaraj and Parrikar, they have not held out any assurance to the Indians that they would reconsider their pro-Pakistan stance not only on the terror issue, but also on anything else that impinges on the 'sweeter than honey, higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans' strategic partnership between China and Pakistan.

The signal from China to India is clear: Beijing is in no mood to recalibrate its relations with Pakistan and accommodate India's interests even on the terror issue.

Thus, the bottomline of China's foreign policy in specific context of India and Pakistan is this: The Great Wall of China seems insurmountable for the Indians.

These are the signals emanating from China for the Modi government. It should be made clear that these are merely straws in the winds, not an officially articulated policy of China with respect to the India-Pakistan conundrum.

But the straws in the winds are enough. After all, the Chinese have been running with the hare and hunting with the hound when it comes to Pakistan's sins of omission and commission on the terror issue. They have always sweet-talked India whenever any India-initiated move of exposing Pakistan before the international community on the terror issue comes up.

But in the end, the Chinese have always bailed out Pakistan as they did recently by blocking the Indian move before the UN Sanctions Committee for seeking UN action against Masood Azhar.

The India-Pakistan-China triangle is predicated on India's relations with the West, particularly the United States. The more the Modi government pushes India closer to the American camp, the more backlash it will have from China.

The current India-China relationship seems free from flashpoints. But this may change in the foreseeable future.

China knows the best way of twisting the knife in its dealings with India: By launching a major incursion into Indian territory. The Chinese have already done it to the Manmohan Singh government when its troops made a 16-km-deep incursion inside Indian territory in the Depsang valley in Ladakh and repeated a similar provocation to the Modi government when it was barely 100 days old.

The Modi government is lucky that the Chinese have not launched any major incursion for the last one-and-a-half years. But the Chinese may not extend this concession for long.

Rajeev Sharma is an independent journalist and strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha

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