This year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. It was owing to Pakistani meddling that the Chinese were able to forge diplomatic ties with the Americans. And since then China has been highly grateful to its ‘all-weather friend’ Pakistan.
For Pakistan, China is its ‘super boss’. It attaches more importance to its ties with China than any other country, including America.
One of the reasons for Sino-Pakistani friendship is the ‘common enemy’ factor, denied officially by both the nations. When all the other doors in the world were closed to Pakistan for nuclear resources, China signed a treaty two decades ago to supply a 300 MW nuclear reactor to Pakistan.
Although China also faces the problem of Islamic terrorism — supported by some Pakistani and Afghan terrorist outfits — in its Xinjiang province, it has thrice blocked a ban on the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the frontal organisation of the Pakistan-based terrorist organisation, the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT ), in the United Nations Security Council. With the support of the US, Britain and France, India had twice in May 2007 tried to add JuD chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed to the list of individuals and organisations connected to terrorism. But China blocked the move. It is widely suspected that Saeed played a pivotal role in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
Despite the mounting evidence, Pakistani leaders have been denying Pakistan’s involvement in the Mumbai massacre. The Pakistani foreign ministry has rubbished Indian claims due a to lack of ‘credible proof’. What more proof does Pakistan want? It is clear that a failing nation on many fronts will never accept the truth. A closer look reveals that Pakistan has China’s blessings to dance to such a tune.
Post-26/11, we have seen the Sino-Pakistani dialogue reach its highest level, with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi being in close contact with the Pakistani foreign ministry. Although Yang was persuaded by the Indian Foreign Ministry to use China’s clout and urge Pakistan to dismantle terror outfits operating on its soil, no substantial step has yet been taken.
China can put pressure on Pakistan to hand over the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack. This would benefit China too. After all, terrorist outfits based in Pakistan and Afghanistan can also wreak havoc in western Xinjiang and other Chinese provinces. China did send a special envoy, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei, to Pakistan who held talks with the Pakistani leadership. But instead of mounting pressure on Pakistan, he concentrated on deepening the bond between the two nations.
From there, the envoy visited India and met Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon. The ministers shared evidence on Pakistan’s involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks, especially on the LeT’s role. Though China too has been a victim of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and has lost some of its engineers working there — the envoy met one of the injured engineers — it is yet to send a strong message to Pakistan for not doing enough to curb its militant groups.
Earlier this month, when Pakistan started ratcheting up the war hysteria, the Chinese Foreign Minister had called his Indian counterpart and urged him to resolve the issue through positive dialogue. He added that any military action would disturb peace in South Asia. He, however, did not ask Pakistan to stop engaging in anti-India activities. This is because China cannot displease Pakistan as both the nations see India as their common enemy.
During the Sino-Indian war of 1962, China was supported by Pakistan and has been unable to forget that cooperation. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, the US wanted to isolate China and impose military and economic sanctions on it. Many close and trusted associates of China like North Korea and some African countries abstained on this issue in the UN Security Council.
But Pakistan openly supported China, further strengthening their relationship. A decade after Tiananmen Square, Pakistan again extended its support after the then Indian Defence Minister, George Fernandes, stated that China was India’s ‘Enemy No. 1’ and, hence, India had reasons to go nuclear.
Thus, the two have relied on each other’s support in adverse times.
China is no longer the same country it was three decades ago. The Chinese economy is growing at an unprecedented rate and it will soon take the top spot probably as early as 2020. Economic power bolsters military might and China will soon start dictating its own terms on global issues.
Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, an old China hand, understands this and has tried his best to befriend China. But it is unlikely that China would heed Indian requests to pressure Pakistan to crack down on terror outfits in the near future.
Yukteshwar Kumar is Course Director, Chinese, University of Bath, UK