China's 3Ts: Trade, terror, territory...
Credible information is always preferable to a cacophonic debate on matters relating to China, with that country increasingly getting hyper-sensitive on three issues — trade, territory and terror(ism) — whenever asked to clarify its position by the international community. What blurs China’s vision and position on the phenomenal growth of Pakistan-based terror factories anad its Army/ISI-trained and funded terror deep inside India for the past 28 years? How does China stay so indifferent to and seemingly blindly ignorant of such Pakistani terror, and yet, simultaneously, is keen to “promote trade” in the huge Indian market for its manufactured products, with Chinese-made smartphones in a dominant position. Does China recognise or even acknowledge this glaring contradiction in its “forked policy” on South Asia? Is China doing the right thing, trying to enhance trade with India and at the same time pretending to be ignorant about Pakistan’s overdrive on terror, as it aims to “check India” in South Asia — part of its efforts to maintain its political and diplomatic hegemony?
Why has China imposed restrictions on its border with Pakistan at Xinjiang? Why is China failing to put pressure on Pakistan to leash the terror networks and outfits? Has Pakistan become so indispensable for China’s external, commerce and defence policy against India? Will Pakistan become another Xinjiang? The only difference is whereas landlocked Xinjiang has 25 million Muslims, there are 200 million Muslims in Pakistan, which gives it access to warm water ports near the vast Indian Ocean.
This magnetic attraction and lure of “ocean access” is such that every landlocked state or territory from the Black Sea to the Bay of Bengal covets a foothold on the South Asian coastline — from Bahrain, Bandar Abbas to Myanmar, and beyond, to Banda Aceh. What emerges is the sense of urgency in China’s thinking — on realpolitik and a matching global geopolitical-cum-geostrategic ambition. The 66 per cent of the world’s area that is water has always attracted every superpower, real or potential, as humankind inhabits — and squabbles over — the other 33 per cent-plus area that is landmass.
The Chinese appear to know world history all too well. Competitive neighbours have always been intractable and rarely enjoyed enduring peace. This is particularly true of the great Euro-Asian land arc, of which China and the Indian peninsula constitute the two fringe areas of the Far East and South Asia; the latter an open outlet to the Indian Ocean. That is why China covets South Asia’s coast — access to “unlimited water”.
In this respect, while India is comparatively blessed, China appears cursed. Why? Between the Indian shoreline and Antarctica there doesn’t exist a single landmass of any standing, giving India a virtual “free longitude” all through the Indian Ocean. China, on the other hand, has the South China Sea and East China Sea in close proximity; both “infested” with neighbours who have traditionally been a hindrance and are unlikely to allow unhindered naval or marine movements by “One China” even today. China’s access to its “own” sea, contiguous to its land, is subject to scrutiny and surveillance by several foreign powers, most notably the United States and its considerable naval fleet. And Beijing’s efforts to have “unfettered freedom of navigation” in its “own” East Asian “backwaters” is also causing annoyance to all, China’s rising international profile notwithstanding.
What then is the way out for China? Access to South Asian waters — with its comparatively freer navigation! But friction with India ever since the 1962 war has been a stumbling block, with New Delhi, like Beijing, aiming to raise its maritime profile in the region. That is where Pakistan comes in — as a readymade tool to check and counter India. The indirect option is chosen — terror operations on land by a “third” party compels India to divert resources to its land borders, weakening Indian enterprise at sea, and giving China a freer hand to operate unhindered and unchallenged in the Indian Ocean region. With the Pakistani Navy by its side, the Beijing-Islamabad ships constitute the “multi-theatre”, and not merely a “war on two fronts”, as referred to in some quarters. This would comprise China, Pakistan and the Islamic terrorists on the north, northwest and northeast land borders and in the two water sectors of the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal.
In this scenario, India’s position can only worsen if the trade and industrial sector are also “captured in advance” or taken over by the lure of China’s surplus funds and strong financial institutions. With an India of weakened economics and foreign-controlled (China) finance and a two-nation (Beijing-Islamabad) military encircling through the sea, one can well understand why is China reluctant to take any action and is in fact wholeheartedly backing Pakistan to help the likes of Hafiz Sayeed and Masood Azhar, and their outfits Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, and at least 50 other terror outfits in Pakistan.
Is it incorrect to suggest that China’s actions are totally unbecoming of a permanent member of the UN Security Council? That China, sitting at the high table as one of the P-5, is brazenly flouting the UN Charter on terrorism by failing to take note, despite repeated evidence produced by India, of cross-border terror?
Does China sincerely believe it is doing the right thing by failing to recognise terrorism and terrorists under the overall command and control of its “all-weather friend”? One certainly expects better from China.
Will it be too much to expect New Delhi’s diplomats to deliver a polite, yet firm, message to Beijing that these actions designed to subvert the sovereignty and territory of India aren’t in consonance with the stature of a great country like China — and also “not commensurate with the status and behaviour of a state considered a friendly country”! No nation can collude with terror attacks against this country and yet seek enhanced trade. That is the contradiction between “trade, terror and territory”; and beyond a point it is bound to be unacceptable.