The United Nations on Wednesday, May 1 designated Masood Azhar as a “global terrorist” after China lifted its hold on a proposal to blacklist the Pakistan-based Jaish-e Mohammed chief, a decade after New Delhi approached the world body for the first time on the issue.
India’s direct and mediated efforts started in 2009 to achieve this objective but faced China’s opposition four times.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China lifted technical hold after Beijing found no objection to the listing proposal following a careful study of the “revised materials.”
“Recently, relevant countries revised and re-submitted the materials for the listing proposal to the 1267 Committee. After careful study of the revised materials and taking into consideration the opinions of relevant parties concerned, China does not have objection to the listing proposal,” he said.
According to available evidence, China’s behavior over the past ten years was due to Pakistan’s request and the strategic relationship between Beijing and Islamabad. Given that China had suffered the least damage from terrorist acts during this period, it was attempting to have the least involvement in terrorism-related issues in South Asia. But the spread of terrorism in South Asia and Central Asia, and China’s concern about its spread to the Xinjiang region, as well as the threat to security in the periphery as a prerequisite for the realization of the Belt & Road Initiative, has led to this change of track. There are three major possibilities for China’s change of behavior:
- The Belt & Road Initiative (BRI): China’s foreign policy is based on economic development and the idea of a Belt & Road Initiative as a driving engine for achieving this goal is on the agenda of Beijing. Over the past two years, the Chinese government has received much criticism over BRI idea, including from the United States and its allies (Japan, India, and certain European countries), for its military and covert dimensions. The debt trap, China’s involvement in domestic affairs, the idea of the path and military presence in some countries, such as Pakistan and Djibouti, are among the charges.
Therefore, Beijing is trying to portray itself as a supporter and advocate of international law immediately after the second international BRI forum was held from April 25-27, along with other members of the Security Council. On the other hand, as noted, the security of projects defined in the BRI in Central and South Asia has persuaded the Chinese authorities to restrict the activities of terrorists in the periphery.
- Human rights issues and dealings with the United States: Over the past year and following news reports on the situation of Muslims in the Chinese province of Xinjiang and the existence of reeducation camps in the province, the pressure from the United States and European countries on China to visit these areas and improve the conditions of Muslims is increasing. It is likely that China may have reached a secret deal with the US government before agreeing to designate Azhar as a terrorist and blacklist him at the UN Security Council.
- CPEK conditions and pressure on Pakistan: Internal reports from Pakistan indicate opposition to China-Pakistan Economic Cooperation (CPEK) corridor project, in various states, especially Baluchistan. In addition, the Pakistani government officials have also called for changes to some of the projects in the plan, and even the addition of a third party to the project. Imran Khan also announced on a recent visit to China that the design of the second phase of the CPEK corridor focused on agriculture, health and education (based on the fight against poverty as the main slogan of Imran Khan). Beijing has little interest in changing CPEK and expects the project to be completed as soon as possible as the most important part of the BRI. Therefore, it is possible for China to maintain Islamabad’s dependence on Beijing more than the past, by changing its approach on Azhar’s case.
This pragmatic shift in China’s position does not mean that Beijing is seeking a revision of its strategic partnership with Pakistan. According to informed sources, the Pakistani prime minister’s visit to China over the past few days he has been informed about this matter. Azhar’s blacklisting is the outcome of intensive consultations between the four main players, China, the United States, India and Pakistan; as some Indian sources have said, Washington has agreed to negotiate with China on Jaish-e Mohammed subject to India’s compliance with US regulations on oil imports from Iran.
In any case, the results of consultations and bargaining on India-Pakistan relations and Afghanistan will be known in a near future. Special attention is needed to be paid to the point that Pakistan’s cooperation (or lack of cooperation) with the rules created by this decision of the UNSC Committee 1267, such as the ban on travel, the ban on transactions, interception of the terrorist group, etc., has a direct impact on the situation of that country in the gray list of Financial Action Task Force (FATF).