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Amid fresh uncertainties, China tries to balance ties, woo India back!

  • China changes position on J&K, says its a “bilateral issue”
  • Beijing feels the heat of ‘encirclement’ on Xinjiang, HK
  • Modi-Xi Summit in TN, Oct 11-12.

New Delhi: In a fast changing global power scenario, China is shifting gears and may recalibrate its future plans. The Sunni Muslim world is increasingly grouping into Arabs and non-Arabs blocs; a nuclear-armed Pakistan, having lost face globally in the Kashmir imbroglio, is trying to retrieve some honour by aligning with non-Arab Muslim nations Turkey and Malaysia. While Saudi Arabia is unhappy with this new power bloc, America has threatened Turkey to “destroy and obliterate Turkey’s economy over Syria.”

Another group, led by Shia Iran and its supporters in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, has also emerged.

2014, redux? Chinese President Xi Jinping with Indian PM Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad, 2014. The two leaders will meet in an informal Summit at Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, on October 11-12, 2019.

And we are not talking about an unstable Islamabad’s own internal crises: crashing economy, religious fanaticism and sub-national dissidence that may tear the rogue nation apart.

This is what worries China the most—for, most of its future plans hinge on controlling Gwadar port in a restive Balochistan through which passes the mammoth USD 2 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).  It is the first phase of Beijing’s revived ancient Silk Route, renamed as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in which China expects to involve 152 countries in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and the Americas.

But if China fails in the very first phase, all its future plans could be jeopardized, even come crashing down like a house of cards. Apparently, Beijing is not worried about the fate of Pakistan’s own unity, integrity, stability and existence; what it is worried about is ensuring a continuous flow of energy from the Middle East to China to run its vast infrastructure and industry behemoths—without which the Communist regime could itself go the Soviet way of the 1990s and dismantle the New Middle Kingdom/ Celestial Empire founded in 1949: Xi Jinping may end up like Pu Yi, the last Manchu Emperor of China, whose reign ended in July 1917.

Remember, the then US President Ronald Reagan had, by announcing development of Star War-like weaponry and technology, forced Moscow to do likewise. As a result, the USSR became bankrupt and collapsed in the 1990s. To retain its superpower status, America may impose similar ‘costs’ on China to stop it in the tracks. In fact, Washington has been  following this policy, through trade war and other calibrated steps.

This is what scares Beijing the most and forces it to recalibrate responses to external stimulus. Every day.

Which also explains why, after playing along with Pakistan for almost two months, China declared on Wednesday that Kashmir is a ‘bilateral issue’ which India and Pakistan should resolve peacefully. Actually, it was only a reiteration of the first Chinese reaction to India’s annulment of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on August 5; subsequently, however, with Pakistan begging its “all-weather friend” repeatedly, Beijing went along with Islamabad, realizing that it would be a zero-sum game even in the United Nations where Beijing ‘supported’ Islamabad to keep it in good humour. China also noted that Pakistan had got little support in the Muslim world itself.

This announcement came as a snub to the visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi and his Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and, too, just ahead of Xi’s India tour (October 11-12). It may pave the way for some positive outcome in his upcoming Informal Summit with Indian PM Narendra Modi in Tamil Nadu later this week.

There are, of course, other pressing factors in China’s recalibration of its India policy.

Amid intensifying pro-democracy ‘uprising’ in Hong Kong and trade war with America, the US, on Tuesday, announced to ‘blacklist’ 28 government and commercial entities of China on the issue of human rights violation in the Uighur Muslim-majority Xinjiang province, which would effectively curtail Chinese exports to America. Apart from this, China is also worried with a string of military exercises being undertaken by India with Japan, Kazakhstan and Australia, among others, which Beijing sees as its ‘encirclement’.

Recently, Washington pilloried Islamabad on its Kashmir propaganda while Pakistan is turning Nelson’s eye on the plight of ethnic Uighurs in China. Also, on security concerns, America and the West have been cautious on the Chinese company Huawei’s global plans for the rollout of 5-G communication technology.

Amid these recent developments, Xi will visit India for his Second Summit at the invitation of Modi, who has emerged as a global leader.

India’s External Affairs Ministry said the forthcoming Summit will provide an opportunity for the two leaders to continue their discussions on overarching issues of bilateral, regional and global importance. However, no agreements, Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) or joint communique are expected to be signed during the Chinese President’s visit, since it is an informal meeting. Xi Jinping will be accompanied by China’s Foreign Minister and Politburo members.

Apparently, the two countries could keep their mutual ‘understanding’ on various issues ‘under wraps’, at least for the time being.

The two leaders had their first inaugural informal Summit in Wuhan, China, in April, 2018, in the backdrop of a 73-day face-off between their armies at Doklam, a tri-junction between China, India’s Sikkim and Bhutan.

The Sino-Indian ties had come under some strain in August after New Delhi announced the withdrawal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and bi-furcated the state into two Union Territories.

In the Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) Summit, the focus of the talks is likely to be on steps to ensure mutual development and expanding overall ties, improving people-to- people contact and on how to maintain peace and tranquility on the India-China border.

PM Modi will hold one-on-one and delegation-level talks with the Chinese President. The meeting between them has no specific agenda but issues like terrorism, terror- funding, support and sourcing are likely to come up during the talks. It is important to note that Pakistan is likely to be ‘blacklisted’ by the global terror-funding watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) at its Paris meeting next week. China currently heads FATF.

The two leaders are also likely to decide schedule for the next Special Representatives talks.

Meanwhile, India has clarified that Imran Khan’s visit to China and Xi’s visit to India are not linked.”India does not see Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to China ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India as hyphenation; it is of no concern to India…All countries, including China, have been told categorically and clearly that abrogation of Article 370 is totally India’s internal matter. There is no scope of discussion on this issue.”

Xi will also make a state visit to Nepal at the end of his India visit, the first by a Chinese President in 22 years, media reports, quoting the Nepali foreign ministry said.

In recent years, China has deepened ties with India’s neighbours, building ports and power stations in an arc stretching from Bangladesh to Sri Lanka and Pakistan as part of its grand BRI’s energy and infrastructure plan. But some countries, like Malaysia, have raised ‘doubts’ about the long-term costs they would have to bear due to Chinese investments in their infrastructural developments. Some Pakistani politicians, too, have questioned Chinese investments in the CPEC project and even dubbed China as a modern incarnation of the British East India Company.

During Xi’s visit, Modi is also likely to raise economic issues, including India’s USD 53 billion trade deficit with Beijing in 2018-19. China may also urge India to take an independent decision on Huawei’s bid.

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