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India-China Strategic Dialogue – both have core interests

Paper No. 6225                                 Dated 20-Feb-2017

By Bhaskar Roy

India and China will hold a new round of strategic dialogue in Beijing on February 22.  The meeting will be co-chaired by Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui.  The format was put in place when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited India in August last year.

According to Xinhuo (Feb. 17, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, “The dialogue is an important communication-mechanism” between the two sides expected to strengthen political and mutual trust, expand common understandings and further promote bilateral ties through this dialogue.  All issues of mutual interest in bilateral, regional and international domain will be discussed”.

Xinhua is China’s official news agency and standard bearer of news which other official news outlets can publish.  It is the mouthpiece of China’s official statements.

Referring to Indian media reports, the Xinhua said that issues to be discussed include India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and India’s demand to list Masood Azhar, “the head of the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM)”, as a designated terrorist under the 1267 sanctions committee of the UN Security Council.  The report quoted Geng Shuang as saying the issues are multilateral rather than bilateral, while stressing that China’s stance is based on the rights and wrongs of the case itself.

Subsequently (Feb. 18), China asked India to provide solid evidence on Masood Azhar.  This statement from China is like US President Donald Trump’s press conference, when the said, “the leaks (from White House Staff) were real but the news reporting of the same was fake”.  What more evidence does China require on Masood Azhar when at least three, if not four, of the P-5 of the UNSC agree with India’s evidence, and their own evidence in the case corroborates that given by India.

Reacting to the recent visit of a group of Taiwanese legislators to India, China protested and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said (Feb. 15) that India should respect China’s “Core interests”, adhere to the “One China” policy, and maintain healthy development of China-India relations.

China has several “core interests”, starting from the ruling position of the communist party, to Tibet, Xinjiang, and the “One China” policy regarding Taiwan.  None of them have been questioned by India though some of them are questionable.

Similarly, India has its “core interests” and strategic and security interest.  These are articulated as and when necessary.  China has no locus standi to decide what is India’s core interest and what is not.  The oft repeated Chinese feelers the Masood Azhar case and India’s membership of the NSG are “small issues” cannot be entertained under any circumstances and must be out rightly rejected.

By keeping India out of the NSG on the flimsy ground that India has not acceded to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Threaty (NPT) does not have any moral ground.  International laws and treaties are primarily based on morality and justice.  The NPT is discriminatory, created precisely to handicap India’s nuclear programme.  India’s non-proliferation record is impeccable while China’s record has huge holes.  Beijing may deny this till they are blue in the face, but as the Shakespearean quote goes “truth comes to light, murder cannot be hidden”.  Some Chinese companies have recently been indicted in the United States.  Not to forget that Pakistan’s first nuclear device was made in China and tested in China.

Beijing must take stock and review its own actions, and quietly move away from blocking India’s NSG membership.  This is a core strategic issue for India.  Last year, King’s college, London, published its Alpha project findings which conclusively prove the involvement of several Chinese companies in nuclear proliferation.

Similarly, holding up India’s and western efforts to list Masood Azhar as an international terrorist in UN Committee 1267 will not help China ultimately.  In international perception China is getting into the grey zone when it starts being labelled as a country which has its own classification of good terrorists and bad terrorists.

As the trusted “all weather friend” of Pakistan, Beijing would be informed why Islamabad has put JUD Chief Hafiz Saeed and four of his men in the fourth schedule of Pakistan’s Anti-terrorist Act, which relates to a suspected terrorist or a terrorist.

Pakistan may be buying time under US and other pressure.  It may revert to its old tricks, as it keeps its friends in the American establishment confused.  But Azhar may come under more severe international pressure, compelling Pakistan to include him and his lieutenants in the fourth schedule.

Countering terrorism from Pakistan (it is the only country that exports terror to India) is India’s top “core interest” at the moment.  China still has time to save face and get out of this slippery slope.

These are bilateral issues with international impact.  Bilateral, because in both issues China stands against India.  The international implication is that China is supporting a Pakistan based terrorist, and terrorism is a huge international concern.

The recent bombing of the Sufi Shrine of Lal Shabaz Qalander at Sehwan in Pakistan, killing almost one hundred devotees, should be a wakeup call.  The Islamic state is here and has spawned its affiliates.  Many terrorists have moved to the IS, including around 500 from Hafiz Saeed’s JUD.  The IS is not amenable to persuasion, and China is one of their targets.

If Beijing is sincerely looking for peace and security, it must make its deep state friends in Pakistan discard their old and failed strategic view of India.  Otherwise, this policy will burn Pakistan first, and singe others around.

(The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst.  He can be reached at e-mail