China’s recent foreign policy moves have exposed its limitations and opaqueness on several counts. Rising concerns and reservations about its ‘‘Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) from partners such as Malaysia and Sri Lanka have made its double standards clear on investments and connectivity; while the China-US trade war has considerably weakened the Chinese economy and exposed its structural constraints.
Moreover, China, which has never missed a single opportunity to define the Uiyghur minority community leaders as terrorists has refused to accept Masood Azhar as an internationally identified terrorist causing much discomfort to India and the larger international community. Azhar is the key mastermind in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and his terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed has also taken responsibility for the recent terror attack in Pulwama. Together, these issues demonstrate that China does little to understand and appreciate the concerns of its neighbours including India. These issues also highlight how China’s foreign policy often runs in contradiction with globally accepted norms and rules.
The increasingly precarious situation in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a major part of the BRI, which is the flagship programme of President Xi Jinping, passes through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK). It is another case in point. CPEC, which has been termed as a ‘mega friendship’ project, involves China-Pakistan cooperation under which Beijing has agreed to build rail, road, and energy corridors between the two countries as also through PoK. Islamabad has already borrowed billions of dollars, which has made the Pakistani economy increasingly debt-ridden. Similar concerns have been faced by other Asian countries as well. Lack of transparency and multilateral negotiations pose strong normative challenges before China’s BRI plan.
The South China Sea issue poses another such challenge before China. Admiral Phil Davidson, Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, remarked that China has been militarising the South China Sea and continuing to reinforce its claims on the East China Sea. The US has been calling out China to shun unlawful activities and assertive postures that not only challenge but also undermine the sovereignty of the countries of the region.
Hinting at China’s BRI, Admiral Davidson stated, “Beijing offers easy money in the short term, but these funds come with strings attached: unsustainable debt, decreased transparency, restrictions on market economies, and the potential loss of control of natural resources.”
The US is expected resume its Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) in the South China Sea. Washington has also called for the support of its’ allies in the region to contribute to the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Sensing the likely implications, China has been attempting to mend ties with countries such as Japan and India. The Wuhan Summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi last year is a case in point. Post-Doklam, India-China cooperation has been increased. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to India last December to strengthen cultural cooperation between the two countries was a step in that direction.
A major irritant in Sino-Indian ties, however, has been China’s repeated denial to support any Indian resolution at the United Nations in banning Pakistan-based and supported terror networks. This reflects how sketchy China’s resolution is in supporting India’s national security concerns.
But, in a significant move, China has gone along with other countries in signing the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) statement that “condemned in the strongest terms” the Pulwama attack. Beijing also named the Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist group for the ‘heinous and cowardly’ suicide bombing.
Derailing the improvements made in relations with New Delhi would not be the wisest move for China especially when it is embroiled in a long-drawn trade war with the US and is losing credibility on its BRI projects too.
Script: Sana Hashmi, Analyst On Chinese And Eurasian Affairs.