When our spouse is hell-bent on doing something we think is stupid and irrational, we often let him/her go ahead with it—so as to push the monkey off our shoulder!
This is what China has, apparently, done unto Pakistan in the Jammu and Kashmir issue. After India revoked the “special status” of the border state on August 5, Beijing had initially opposed the move on Ladakh, warned them against doing anything “unilaterally” to change the status quo in the state, expressed concern, and advised both Islamabad and New Delhi to “exercise restraint”. But Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi and his Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, dissatisfied, pestered China to do at least something they could showcase as their “diplomatic victory” abroad and as a face-saver at home.
And why is China supporting Pakistan at all costs?
China was well aware that New Delhi had, by revoking a temporary special status granted to a border state, which had merged in 1947 itself with India, has unveiled an irreversible fait accompli. Reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories was entirely an internal matter of the country, as acknowledged by many countries as well, before and since. But Pakistan persisted with Beijing: ‘please save our skin and do something, even if as a window-dressing’, as it were.
Exasperated with this Pakistani persistence, Beijing let the monkey quietly disembark from its shoulder. It, then, extended ‘support’ to Islamabad’s move against New Delhi to take the matter to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), aware that it would fall flat in New York. None of the 15 UNSC members, barring China, supported Pakistan which stood completely isolated; later, France and Britain even pilloried Beijing.
China knew that, by October, Pakistan would, in all likelihood, be blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FACT), international watchdog for money-laundering and terror-funding, for its continued support to terrorism; Islamabad’s economy will then be locked in a tailspin, its IMF bailout with be in danger and $10 billion will be jeopardized.
That’s exactly how it all unfolded. China knew Pakistan, a failed state already isolated across the world, stood no chance at all in the UNSC as it had become a diplomatic pariah globally. Even Beijing has been wary of Pakistan’s instability as a nation-state, its mercurial and shortsighted politicians, generals and terror gangsters—some Chinese workers have even been murdered in the restive Balochistan. It, therefore, always handles a spoilt-brat like Islamabad with kid-gloves. It has to constantly keep the lid on an ebullient Pakistan just to keep its humongous investments there safe.
Beijing was also aware that no major Muslim country had openly sided with Pakistan on this matter; only Turkey had extended some superficial “support” to Islamabad. On the contrary, the UAE became the first country to support India and Saudi Arabia’s response was also muted. The UAE, in particular, was also readying to decorate Indian PM Narendra Modi with its highest civilian award, announced in April, on August 24.
It clearly indicated that Pakistan was completely isolated even in the Muslim world. So, Beijing decided to “go ahead” with Islamabad at the UNSC just to keep the teeth-gnashing monkey at bay. Why should China, then, antagonize so many countries, and the large market of India, at the expense of a broke Pakistan?
In other words, China’s “support” to Pakistan was a mere lip service to keep the recalcitrant “all-weather” partner happy, if only to keep the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) on the right track, especially in the turbulent Balochistan with support from the Pakistani Army.
Apart from this specific “Pakistan Question”, China has also to keep its diplomatic relations normal with other countries on issues like international trade, One Border One Road (OBOR), Hong Kong, and Xinjiang.
It is already embroiled in a trade war with Trump’s America and its investments in the USA, as also the 5-G rollout, have repeatedly come under cloud. Besides, over 700 major US companies in China are toying with the idea of relocating their manufacturing facilities to other South-East and South Asian countries where labour is cheaper than in China. If and when that happens—especially if Donald Trump gets a second term as US President next year—China’s advantage as a cheap-labour supplier would come to an end—meaning, China could find its own vast market, in a reversal of market cycle, flooded with dumped, cheaper products from smaller countries! Already, China is facing the problem of trade imbalance with many countries and its economy is in recession due to reduced growth-rate. Its investments in countries like Malaysia and Sri Lanka are being ‘revised’ by their respective governments, and its attempts to acquire naval, mineral and industrial bases elsewhere have triggered unrest at many places.
The ongoing ‘uprising’ in Hong Kong, the world’s fifth largest stock market, is another worry for China. The “autonomous” region is angry with Beijing’s “anti-people” steps and attempts to change its demography, as it did in Xinjiang. If China supports Pakistan on the allegedly “autonomous” J&K issue today, it may be at the receiving end tomorrow on the Hong Kong issue.
Beijing has barely managed to cool down India on the Doklam affair and the USA on the South China Sea matter. Unlike Pakistan and North Korea, China is not interested in being dubbed as a ‘rogue’ state and is trying to emerge as a responsible nation—if only to make its highly-ambitious Border Road Initiative (BRI) a global success.
It can ignore the UN General Assembly’s rap on the knuckles on the human rights issues in Xinjiang. But it cannot ignore wild voices from irresponsible terror gangs of Pakistan who repeatedly threaten to invade the restive Xinjiang and free the Uighur Muslims from the “atheist” China’s tyranny. Religious issues are what China is most scared of!
That is why China, like a vulture, is closely watching and waiting patiently for an imbecile Pakistan to die. Beijing would then could slowly gobble Islamabad and reach the Arabian Sea, or so China thinks.
After all, for Beijing, life of CPEC is more important than death of Pakistan.
At the end of the day, it is business, stupid!