A retired Chinese diplomat, Mao Siwei, in a blog a fortnight ago, critiqued his government’s decision to block attempts to impose a United Nations ban on the Jaish-e-Mohammed leader, Masood Azhar. While Mao served in India, his views on Pakistan’s terrorist networks were influenced by his term as China’s deputy ambassador in Islamabad at a time when militant groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban were threatening the capital city itself — and, among others, killed several Chinese workers. “Is Azhar a terrorist?” asks Mao, and writes “the answer should be yes.”
The social media views of a retired official are no indication of government policy. In China, where the foreign ministry infamously lacks influence, they probably count for even less. However, the blog has helped underline the increasingly strident and public support by Beijing for any actions, rogue or otherwise, of Islamabad. It also underlines the increasing contradictions this “back Pakistan, wrong or right” policy means for China’s other foreign policy positions.
One contradiction, and the most obvious, is that Beijing has sought global support for its own support against homegrown Islamicist terror groups. Therefore, its provision of diplomatic cover for the most egregious of Pakistan’s terrorism-related activities severely undermines its own policy on that front. India would be well within its rights to say it will “review,” for example, its stance on the Uighur separatist movement in China.
The other is China’s entire stance on how best to help Pakistan. Beijing accepts that its “all weather friend” is a troubled nation. It argues much of what it does, from building economic corridors to becoming Pakistan’s primary supplier of weapons, is designed to help stabilise that country and ensure it does not collapse. India has heard similar arguments — from the United States during its periodic bursts of bonhomie with Pakistan. The Chinese arguments are as short-sighted as the American ones. There is a consensus across the world that the source of that country’s instability is its military’s outsized political role, its demonisation of India to legitimise that role, and the sponsorship of terrorist groups to maintain a state of conflict between the two countries. These militant groups have developed an additional utility for the generals of being used to keep Pakistan’s own democratic parties in line.
Nothing China is doing addresses this core problem in Pakistan. If anything, it only further metastasises the cancer that afflicts that country. Mao’s blog implicitly highlights this issue. The more blatantly Beijing bends over backwards on behalf of Islamabad, the worse that country’s behaviour will become in the long-term. And, in the short-term, whatever little progress is possible on the India-China front is being sacrificed.