Only days after India’s operation in Myanmar exposed the need for global collaboration on terrorism, China sparred with New Delhi at the United Nations over the issue of Pakistan’s release of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged 26/11 mastermind, from jail this April. India’s mission at the UN had taken up Lakhvi’s release with the UN Sanctions Committee last month, pointing out that Pakistan’s action was in contravention of the UN Resolution 1267 that deals with designated entities and individuals. 14 of the 15 member nations on the Committee supported India’s resolution; but China vetoed New Delhi, citing “lack of information.”
The world is still trying to figure out what kind of information is ‘missing’, but analysts in New Delhi were quick to sense foul play in Beijing’s rejection. And their fears weren’t unfounded. This was an action directed against an individual who was responsible for the slaughter of innocent citizens and had been designated as a ‘terrorist’ by a United Nations Resolution. He isn’t just ‘India’s enemy’. In fact, his casualties in Mumbai included citizens from a plethora of nationalities. Why then would China, a rising power that seeks to grow responsibly, block action against him? Answer: geopolitics.
Pakistan is China’s proclaimed ‘all-weather friend’. On his latest visit to Islamabad, China’s President Xi Jinping pledged $46 billion worth of energy and infrastructure projects in that country. China is developing a port on Pakistan’s coast at Gwadar, hoping that it will give Beijing strategic access to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. An economic corridor too was promised by Xi, linking Gwadar to China for the purpose of transporting vital commodities that would otherwise have to pass through the highly sensitive Strait of Malacca that is manned by Malaysia and Indonesia – two countries with whom Beijing is currently fighting maritime disputes. With such heavy investments in Pakistan, Beijing can ill afford alienating Islamabad on the global platform.
Then, there is the added advantage of partnering Pakistan – it is a powerful pressure point to irritate India. Beijing and New Delhi might be partners on economic issues (they continually back each other at the World Trade Organization, appreciate each other’s role in their own economic futures and recently spearheaded the setting up of financial institutions that many say may one day rival the West’s), but they’re still political rivals all the same. The prize they’re fighting for: becoming the leading representative of the developing world. In its bid to one-up New Delhi, Beijing has proactively tried to win over India’s neighbors. Who better to start with than inimical Pakistan?
Shielding Pakistan on the release of Lakhvi isn’t the first time Beijing has traded responsibility for geopolitics. Last year, China partnered Russia in spoiling a UN Resolution that aimed at eradicating the cancerous rule of Bashar-al-Assad in Syria. Then, China arm-twisted its ASEAN neighbors from approaching the UN for arbitration in the South China Sea dispute, all the while flouting international law most brazenly. To its east, China declared a fortification zone over disputed islands, as pacifist Japan looked on. Away from home, China sponsors ruthless dictators across Africa and refuses to allow the United Nations perform its security functions. Beijing’s veto of New Delhi’s bid to act on Lakhvi is the latest example.
China’s quiet paralysis of the United Nations, exemplified in its unilateral defeat of India’s petition against Pakistan on Lakhvi, is perhaps the most poisonous of all of Beijing’s actions. With the world turning increasingly multipolar, international law is far more difficult to maintain in the 21st century than it has ever been before. Multiple power centers are at war with each other today, disallowing coherent international action against such global threats as terrorism. Dictators persecute their own people in different parts of the world, terrorists rule large swathes of land and governments frequently infringe upon human rights, even as the United Nations looks away helplessly.
In such a chaotic world, stern and resolute global action is the only remedy. As much as Beijing may pretend otherwise, it is a far more integral part of such action today than anyone else in the world – including Washington. By some estimates, China is already the world’s largest economy, and still grows at over 7% (many smaller Western economies struggle to even grow at 3-4%). Its massive population, whatever the impending demographic difficulties may be, will continue to make up a considerable chunk of the world’s labor force and consumer market. In other words, the world can’t act against its greatest threats without a responsible China. And China can act responsibly if it wants to.
For India, the Chinese threat is closer to home. China is India’s largest neighbor and frequently bullies New Delhi along the dispute Himalayan border. But much worse for New Delhi is Beijing’s irresponsible role at the United Nations and its blatant disregard for international norms. India sees the United Nations as an integral part of its leadership role in the world. New Delhi hopes to use the United Nations as a tool for the resolution of the world’s many crises, both present and future. It yearns for a permanent seat in the Security Council, in order to expand its contribution, but China remains the only permanent member opposed to India’s bid.
New Delhi can’t counter Beijing’s antics all on its own. China, today, is too big to act against. Beijing alone can make Beijing act responsibly. But as long as the dragon spews fire, the world will have to burn.
(c) 2015, Swarajya