Behind China’s move to block Masood Azhar’s listing, a strategic reason

A number of reasons, including the role Pakistan plays in China’s ties with the Muslim world and a sense of alarm that listing Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar will have spillover security problems in Xinjiang, could have played a role in Beijing blocking the move to list Azhar as a global terrorist in the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Thursday.

As it readies a defence to explain its move later today, Beijing is likely to cite India’s failure to provide “updated materials” on Azhar as the reason for blocking the fresh move.

It is, however, clear that strategic reasons were a crucial factor in the decision.

Not the least would have been to ensure that Pakistan isn’t isolated in the international community – “iron brother” Beijing stands by Islamabad through the thick of global pressure to act on the JeM and Azhar.

It is also evident that despite routine diplomatic talk about having a common front on terrorism, India and China stand apart on the issue – the post-Wuhan bilateral bonhomie can only gloss over the issue.

Earlier on Thursday, China blocked the latest international move to designate Azhar – whose group JeM claimed responsibility for the deadly Pulwama attack in February – as a global terrorist at the UNSC, allowing a major bilateral irritant with India to fester.

A statement issued by the external affairs ministry in New Delhi expressed “disappointment” at the UN’s Islamic State and al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee being unable to come to a decision on the move to sanction Azhar “on account of a member placing the proposal on hold”.

The statement did not name the Security Council member responsible for the outcome in view of the official protocols followed for the working of the Sanctions Committee, people familiar with developments confirmed that China was behind the “technical hold” on Azhar’s listing.

“This has prevented action by the international community to designate the leader of JeM, a proscribed and active terrorist organisation which has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir on 14 February 2019,” the statement said.

Despite the post-Wuhan upswing in Sino-India bilateral ties, what explains China’s repeated blocking of the move to list Azhar as terrorist?

“Pakistan also suffers a lot from terrorists activities, to designate Azhar as a terrorist won’t eradicate the origin of the problem and may cause more security spillovers in the region. Therefore, China is cautious to take the stand,” Lu Yang, south Asia expert at Tsinghua University, said.

“In China’s ties with the Muslim world, Pakistan is an important partner. China worries the general security situation in the region which would also affect China’s west,” Lu said, indicating the problems Beijing is facing in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

The way China deals with terror threats within its borders is also clearly different from what another country – like India – face.

“Xinjiang and Kashmir are different: Kashmir is a disputed area while Xinjiang is not, Xinjiang is a province of China. We negotiated with Pakistan and got cooperation from Pakistan (to keep Xinjiang safe),” said Liu Zongyi, general secretary of the Centre for China-South Asia Cooperation Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

“This issue had been a problem between China and India in the past years even before the Donglang (Doklam) standoff in 2017. This problem has heavily influenced our bilateral relations,” Liu said

“But I think the reason is that the Indian government always connects one issue, like the Azhar issue, with the whole bilateral relations; they think if China cannot resolve this issue, it will affect the whole bilateral relations. And, the Indian side thinks they are special so China should accept their requirement,” he added.

First Published:
Mar 14, 2019 10:19 IST

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