Thursday, April 7, 2016
China playing with fire on terrorism issues
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Ambiguity on what constitutes ‘terrorism’ can have serious implications for the future of the Middle Kingdom, not only for its restive Provinces, but also for Xi's ‘dream' project of a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
China is gambling. In this dangerous pursuit, Beijing can lose its stakes and more. It believes that Masood Azhar, the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief and Pathankot terror attack mastermind, does not qualify to be listed as a ‘terrorist’ by the UN; his case “does not meet the Security Council’s requirements”, says Beijing. At the same time, when convenient for the communist leadership, the peace-loving Dalai Lama is branded as a ‘terrorist’.
When asked the reason for China’s decision in the UN Sanctions Committee to place Azhar’s name on ‘technical hold’, Liu Jieyi, China’s Permanent Representative to the UN explained: “Any listing would have to meet the requirements for blacklisting. It is the responsibility of all members of the council to make sure that these requirements are followed.”
Beijing probably believes that it is its responsibility to block Azhar’s name, and this, at a time when China, one of the five permanent members of the 15-nation Council, assumed the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council (for April).
Hong Lei, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokesman supported his colleague in New York: Such issues should be based on facts and rules in an “objective and just manner.”
Though the UN banned the JeM in 2001, Azhar who masterminded the 2008 Mumbai terror attack has always been ‘protected’ by China’s veto power. In the long run however, it is doubtful if the gamble of defending terrorism will pay for Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Moreover, ambiguity on what constitutes ‘terrorism’ could only bring serious troubles to China, which has not hesitated to put the Dalai Lama on the ‘terrorist’ list in the past.
In December 2015, Zhu Weiqun, the Chairman of the Chinese Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee told The Global Times that the Dalai Lama “exposed in his very bones, his sympathy or endorsement for Islamic State.” In an interview, the Tibetan leader had merely said that one should listen to the youth joining the IS to understand their motivations.
Zhu went on to say that the Dalai Lama has “never given up violence in his political way of life”. According to Zhu, he has been inciting Buddhist Tibetans to self-immolate. Ironically the Tibetan monk had told La Stampa, that Islam was a ‘religion of peace’. Today, for China, the Dalai Lama is a terrorist and Masood Azhar is not. In what kind of world are we living?
In March, after the Dalai Lama met some other Nobel Peace prize laureates in Geneva, Zhu affirmed that after receiving the prize, the Dalai Lama has been ‘increasingly rampant’ [sic] and has pursued “Tibetan Independence and violent terrorism, leading to the deadly riot in Lhasa on March 14, 2008.”
Reuters commented: “The attempt to identify the Dalai Lama as an Islamic State sympathiser also follows weeks of taunting on the part of IS, beginning in earnest with a full-page spread in the jihadi organisation’s magazine, Dabiq, announcing the beheading of Chinese hostage Fan Jinghui.” The IS had then released its first Mandarin-language jihadi ‘song’, urging Chinese nationals to join them in Syria and Iraq.
To club the Dalai Lama with jihad may not help Beijing to combat true terrorism. But, if Beijing is blind enough to equate the Dalai Lama and Masood Azhar, this could have serious implications for the future of the Middle Kingdom, not only for its restive provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang, but also for Xi’s mega ‘dream’ project of a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
In April 2015, as President Xi arrived in Pakistan, The Washington Post remarked: “Xi arrived in Islamabad bearing real gifts: An eye-popping $46 billion worth of planned energy and infrastructure investment to boost Pakistan’s flagging economy.” A Chinese dream for Islamabad?
Billboards in Chinese and English were euphoric in Islamabad, the friendship between China and Pakistan was ‘higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, sweeter than honey, and stronger than steel.’
The CPEC will eventually link up Xi’s two pet projects, the New Silk Roads (one road one belt); the Chinese-sponsored port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea will be connected through the Karakoram Highway, to the Xinjiang Province in China’s Far West and Central Asia… and later Middle East, Africa and Europe. The ‘corridor’ will have railways, roads, optical fiber cables, dams (to produce the necessary electricity), pipelines, etc.
Observers are aware that Beijing’s kindness and generosity will ultimately and primarily benefit Beijing. Pakistan, China’s ‘eternal friend’, is the perfect ‘partner’ (or vassal?); it is geographically ideally positioned with an access to the sea in the south and to Central Asia in the north.
By buying Pakistan’s allegiance, Beijing believes that after linking the belt and the road, it will be able to control and dominate Asia.
Before he arrived in Islamabad, Xi wrote that the bilateral relationship ‘has flourished like a tree growing tall and strong’. It is very touching, but China should realise that it may not get only ‘good things’ from the project. For the terrorist groups, the doors to Xinjiang, already prone to Islamic fundamentalism (fired by Han chauvinism), will be wide open.
It is not only goods which will circulate faster on the dream corridor, Azhar and his friends are bound to open new recruitment centres in the ‘fertile’ land of Xinjiang. In February, an excellent article on Gwadar in The Guardian mentioned: “Ensuring security on long stretches of road in a Province wracked by a persistent, low-level insurgency is the biggest challenge to the CPEC. Fear of being outnumbered by outsiders from the rest of Pakistan is fuelling a violent rebellion in Balochistan.”
The populations around some of the CPEC’s nodes are already resentful of the Chinese; this could rapidly fuel more terrorism. For Pakistan, the value of the planned projects, if implemented, would be equivalent to 17 per cent of Pakistan’s 2015 gross domestic product. But has Islamabad (or Beijing) taken into account the gross domestic terrorism? By refusing to list Massood Azhar, Beijing has already lost a battle.
And it is really foolish for China to think that it can ‘purchase’ some of the terror leaders, like the CIA did with the Taliban decades ago. Everyone knows what happened to the US schemes.
During his recent visit abroad, Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the dangers posed by terrorism to the world; if the UN is unable to address such crucial challenges, “the global body could be rendered irrelevant,” said Modi who rightly added: “The world was jolted by 9/11. Till then the world powers did not understand what India was going through.”
He further said that it was unfortunate that the UN was still unable to define terrorism. If it wants to play a significant role on the world scene, it is time for China to learn the definition of ‘terrorism’.
Perhaps, during his forthcoming visit to Beijing, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar could explain this to the Chinese leadership.