SPEAKING FREELY China needs South Asia anti-terror dynamic
By Abanti Bhattacharya
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
Escalating terror attacks in restive, Muslim-majority parts of China have renewed debate on the durability of China's all-weather relationship with Pakistan. The question is not whether China-Pakistan relations will endure - they will due to China's need for Pakistan's help in dealing with terrorism in Xinjiang - the real issue is whether this relationship actually helps Beijing.
So far, China has adopted two broad strategies to deal with terrorism. Internally, it has since 1999 adopted the "Strike Hard" campaign, a strategy that essentially involves repressive
Externally, it has used both multilateral and bilateral means. China is part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which in its first summit in 2001 identified terrorism one its "three evils", with the other two - separatism and fundamentalism. On the bilateral front, China has called for an intensive cooperation with Pakistan to rein in the al-Qaeda-backed Uyghur terrorists. It is this need for counter-terror input that has led China to strongly urge for a more stable Pakistan.
China has sought deepened economic ties with Pakistan, including through the construction of infrastructure and hydro-power projects in the disputed region of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, much to the chagrin of India.
While establishing a Special Economic Zone in Kashgar, Beijing has also pledged to build a US$18 billion corridor linking Kashgar in Xinjiang with Gwadar in Pakistan.
Such economic links allow China to expand its influence in Pakistan, while also creating a motivation for the latter to support a joint push against terrorism.
Despite the cooperation, however, China has failed to successfully deal with domestic terrorism. A series of terror strikes including knife attacks in April and a blast in Urumqi in May demonstrates the failure of China's counter-terrorism measures.
The failure suggests China needs a united regional front to tackle the issue. So far, China has been averse to involving India in any discussion on terrorism with Pakistan, though India too has suffered.
The time has come to adopt a trilateral counter-terrorism front that involves India, China and Pakistan. For Pakistan, the need is pressing. Terrorism is currently turning Pakistan into a failed state.
The time is also ripe politically. Both in India and Pakistan there are majority elected governments under Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif. Such a decisive mandate should allow both governments greater maneuverability in pushing through policies that give primacy to peace and development in the region.
Significantly, both these governments have come to power on the plank of ensuring economic development and prosperity. This was clearly evident in Modi's invitation to Pakistan's and other South Asian countries' leaders to his swearing-in-ceremony.
In recent years, South Asia has emerged as a clear focus of Chinese foreign policy. Its neighborhood strategy has manifested in the creation of the Northern Silk Road route in its Western periphery, the Maritime Silk Road route in its Southeastern periphery and the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) corridor in its Southern periphery.
For the success of its Silk Road route, which China views as key in its progress towards superpower status, it is imperative that China has optimum security in its periphery. But terrorism will derail the grand strategy.
When the US withdraws from Afghanistan, the region is also likely to witness a renewed Afghan Taliban offensive. Both India and China are important stakeholders in the region and are heavily engaged economically in Afghanistan. It is in the interest of both to jointly uphold peace in the region by creating a common front on counter-terrorism.
The onus now lies on China to rein in Pakistan on terrorism and urge it to cooperate with India.
As a true friend, China should ensure that Pakistan opts for peace and development and develops at par with India and China. With time, economic development in Pakistan would create a constituency for peace that would call for eliminating terror outfits that are eating into the basic fabric of the nation.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Abanti Bhattacharya is an associate professor in the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Delhi.