Home / Opinion / Columns /  Opinion | China’s risky gambit on Jaish and terrorism

Last week, not for the first but for the fourth time, China blocked a proposal in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to designate Masood Azhar, chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the terrorist organization based out of Pakistan, as a terrorist. Effectively it gave a fresh lease of life to JeM and its chief. This cavalier approach towards terrorism—a scourge that is rapidly acquiring a global footprint—exhibited by China on the global stage is wrong for so many reasons; not just because India’s northern neighbour, on the threshold of global fame, now runs the risk of being dubbed, like its ally Pakistan, a global pariah.

For one, it undermines the claim often made by the Chinese for global legitimacy. By repeatedly blocking a move to ban a terrorist with established credentials and a long record of plotting attacks on India, China has tacitly lent support to the actions of a terrorist outfit like JeM. Nothing can be more irresponsible from a country, which today is the second-largest economy in the world behind the US, and based on this economic heft occupies the second-most important position at the global high table.

Second, China may have also risked its business relationship with India, one of the fastest-growing markets in the world. At a time when it is engaged in a ruinous trade war with the US, it is being rather imprudent to risk its growing investments in India. Some of the Chinese telecom companies like Huawei are already household names, having displaced their rivals from South Korea. As of December last year, its cumulative foreign direct investment (FDI) into India was estimated at $2.2 billion in 2018 and its extremely favourable bilateral trade with India at $90 billion annually. Even a consumer backlash inspired by a wave of nationalism—like the one threatened after the 73-day Doklam stand-off—could undermine Chinese business interests. It is a pity because it has the potential of being a win-win for both.

Third, the Chinese may be either misreading the tea leaves or betting that the forthcoming general election is likely to elect a less hardline regime. Even if this may be the case, China may have overlooked the new red lines that India has drawn, first in Doklam and more recently in striking at the JeM training camp located in Balakot, Pakistan. Unlike in the past, India has shown the willingness to walk the tough line and in the process also displayed the stomach to absorb the associated costs that come with such inclement action. This has altered status quo and will require a recalibration by all its neighbours (regardless of whether it is good or bad for India in the long run). Essentially business as usual is no longer par for the course.

Fourth, this business of sleeping with the enemy (read terrorists and terrorist sponsors) inevitably entails a payback. The chickens came home to roost tragically for the Americans when the Taliban, who they had fostered to eject the then occupying forces of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, incubated the dreaded al-Qaeda terror network that carried out the audacious terror strikes in New York. China may well believe that patronizing terror outfits like JeM could guarantee the safety of the extremely expensive infrastructure associated with their One Belt, One Road project when it passes through Pakistan. If indeed it is so, China is mistaken in its belief because terrorists have no loyalties.

Fifth, more worryingly from India’s point of view, China’s actions will further delude Pakistan in believing in the legitimacy of using cross-border terrorism as a strategic tool in negotiating deals with its neighbours. Pakistan’s international isolation following the JeM-sponsored suicide attack in Pulwama was a wake-up call that there are no takers (with the exception of China) of this strategy. Especially true after New Zealand also found a spot on the global terror map last week.

In the final analysis, Beijing should realise that their country is already under scrutiny by Western nations for alleged intellectual theft of high tech; its actions at the UNSC last week only reinforces the perception of duplicitousness exhibited by China. It should ask itself whether backing JeM is worth eroding all the hard-earned social capital of the last three decades. The answer is obvious.

Anil Padmanabhan is managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.

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