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To save CPEC, China must act on terrorism

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To save CPEC, China must act on terrorism

For the time being, China has stood by Islamabad. But for how long can it do so? Can Beijing support terrorist activities of non-state actors in Pakistan? It cannot afford it. The price would be too high

China teaches its defence forces that, apart from conventional fighting, there are three warfares — psychological, legal and public opinion warfares, which needs to be judiciously used. Beijing has recently extensively used ‘public opinion’ to scare India.

For example, the Indian Press reported: “China has blocked the flow of an important tributary of Brahmaputra river to construct its most expensive dam in Tibet at a location very close to Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.”

Though the announcement was linked to India’s decision to review the use of water under the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan, the proposed dam is far away from Arunachal Pradesh. An Indian agency admitted: “Xinhua article might be intended to only give India a scare…as diversion of Brahmaputra waters remains an emotive, volatile issue in India’s North-East.”

The fact that the Lalho project is located near Shigatse, several hundred kilometers from the border in Arunachal Pradesh and that the power station will have a relatively low generation capacity of 42 megawatts only, was ignored. On the environmental website, The Third Pole, a vigilant journalist rectified the Chinese ‘scare propaganda’; Joydeep Gupta wrote: “The unease in India is due to the fear that the project will reduce the flow of water in the Brahmaputra. …The far bigger problem with the Lalho project is that it will more or less dry up a long stretch of the Shiabu chu (river) in an area that is already suffering from rapid desertification.”

In other words, Tibet/China will suffer first. Another propaganda coup which worked was the appearance of China’s first stealth fighter, the J-20, in Daocheng Yading Airport in Gartse Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture; at 4,411 m above sea level, it is the world’s highest civilian airport.

The Indian Press reported, “China’s top secret stealth fighter spotted in Tibet days after it warned India”. The airport is not in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, as stated by the Indian media, but in Sichuan Province.

The image of the stealth fighter, which appeared on Twitter and some Chinese defence websites a few days after India deployed the supersonic BrahMos missiles in the Himalaya, was a warning for India, though the image of the J-20 which shows the fighter covered with a tarpaulin, is not a proof that the plane can operate at such altitude. In any case, it can’t carry armament on the plateau. That was not the purpose, China just wanted to warn the Indian ‘public opinion’. It worked.

Apart from this, the Chinese reactions to Uri attack and India’s surgical strikes inside Pakistan have been rather cautious, though according to The Dawn: “China has assured Pakistan of its support in the event of any foreign aggression and also supported Pakistan’s stance on the Kashmir dispute.”

The message was apparently conveyed during a meeting between with Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and a senior Chinese diplomat. The Chinese Consul General of China in Lahore Yu Boren stated: “In case of any foreign aggression our country will extend its full support to Pakistan. We are and will be siding with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. There is no justification for atrocities on unarmed Kashmiris in India-held-Kashmir and the Kashmir dispute should be solved in accordance with aspirations of the Kashmiris.”

It is ironic that a nation which has never accepted a democratic process, can speak of the aspirations of the people. After the surgical strikes, Beijing has remained rather mum.

Let us remember for a moment the mega China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a crucial element of the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), the Chinese dream which could be a game-changer … if it happens.

The architects of CPEC plan to build a 2,700-kilometre corridor stretching from Kashgar to Gwadar, which will link Central Asia (via Xinjiang) to Europe and Africa (via the maritime route). Unfortunately, for China, the corridor crosses Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a plaque tournante for controlling Central Asia and Middle East. Observers marvelled at Beijing kindness (and wealth), though Chinese generosity may first and foremost benefit Beijing!

Now, suppose the project becomes ‘unstable’ due to terrorism (presently localised in Pakistan, but which can be easily exported to Xinjiang)? Add to this India’s military options, such as the recent Indian strikes, and the cost of the project will tremendously shoot up.  This does not amuse Beijing.

On August 28, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asserted that the CPEC is a ‘game-changer’ for Pakistan; it would help bring prosperity to the entire region.

According to Pakistan Today, Sharif affirmed: “The CPEC is not merely a strategic decision but the culmination of 10 years of brotherhood and cooperation between China and Pakistan” before concluding: “Our relations with China are of the utmost importance.”

For the time being, China bravely stands by Islamabad, but for how long? Beijing recently extended its veto on India’s move to blacklist Masood Azhar at the UN. The Chinese Government announced that “Its technical hold on India’s move to get Pakistan-based  Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar designated a terrorist by the UN has been extended.”

But can Beijing support terrorist activities of non-state actors in Pakistan? The answer is ‘no’, Beijing can’t afford it. The price would be high. Xinhua may repeat the argument of the Pakistan Army that India’s strikes were mirages; it may quote the Pakistani Army’s spokesman: “The notion of surgical strikes linked to alleged terrorists’ bases is an illusion being deliberately generated by India to create false effects”; the fact remains that the Chinese are no fools; they are aware of the situation in Pakistan and the danger for their workers involved in CPEC and the possibility of terror spreading in Xinjiang. An important element has, however, been missed by the Indian Press. On September 27, Indian and China held their first dialogue on counter-terrorism and security.

Xinhua said: “The two sides exchanged opinions on the international and regional security situation and their respective anti-terrorism systems, mechanisms and legislation. They also reached consensus on measures to strengthen cooperation and to jointly deal with security threats, according to a document issued after the meeting.”

The dialogue was jointly chaired by Wang Yongqing, secretary-general of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs and RN  Ravi, chairman of Joint Intelligence Committee. Ravi also held talks with Meng Jianzhu, a key member of the Politburo and ‘security star’ who stepped into the shoes of the disgraced Zhou Yongkang, China’s most powerful man before his fall.

According to Xinhua, Meng told Ravi, “Terrorism is a common enemy of the global community”, adding that “strengthened counter-terrorism cooperation between China and India was conducive to the interests of the people of both countries”. Let’s hope that China understands it may lose its stakes in the CPEC, should it decide to continue playing the card of its all-weather friend. Meanwhile, ‘public opinion’ warfare will continue.

(The writer is a commentator and author on India-China relations)

 
 
 
 
 
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