China's Message Is Clear – It Does Not See Masood Azhar as a 'Terrorist'

China's move was not a “technical” hold as some have reported. It was a straight forward “hold” – meaning China does not agree that Azhar is a terrorist.

Washington: On the Chinese abacus, the beads are clearly stacked in favour of Pakistan and its band of terrorists. China blocked the designation of Masood Azhar – for the fourth time – at the UN Security Council, against the wishes of all other members.

It did so without veneer. China’s move was not a “technical” hold as some have reported. It was a straight forward “hold” – meaning China does not agree that Azhar is a terrorist. Period. No technicalities are blurring Beijing’s vision on this one.

The UN Secretariat used the word “hold” in its note to members of the Security Council. “The Secretariat wishes to inform the members of the Committee (formed pursuant to resolutions 1267, 1989 and 2253 on Da’esh, Al-Qaeda and associated groups) that China has placed a hold on the proposal.”

UN observers say they have gone through the rules and never come across the word “technical,” including in the Chinese version, but somehow many in the Indian media have embraced the term “technical hold” to describe China’s block over the years.

The latest proposal to designate Azhar, chief of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad, as a UN-sanctioned terrorist was moved by the United States, France and Britain. Four other Security Council members decided to co-sponsor the proposal to register support for India.

Also read: Once Again, China Blocks Terror Listing for Masood Azhar at UN

In the end, the proposal had 14 co-sponsors. Seven countries outside the UNSC, including Bangladesh, the Maldives, Bhutan, Japan and Australia, also joined hands to take a stand against Pakistan.

Australia’s decision to co-sponsor should be noted as it struggles to come to terms with the depth of Chinese influence in its own society and tries to push back. This effort was a signal both to China and to India.

Russia stayed in the background – it didn’t co-sponsor the proposal with the three other permanent members, but neither did it support China against India. New Delhi can be thankful for small mercies.

The vote was 14 to 1 in the 15-member UNSC with China voting in solitary splendour.

What’s evident is that more and more members are willing to stand up and point a finger at countries that support terrorism or countries that support countries that spawn terrorists.

China can’t escape the black label anymore – it sat and continues to sit squarely beside Pakistan even as it puts millions of Uighurs in “re-education” camps, arrests hundreds of Kazaks who cross the border and breaks families merely on the basis they are Muslim and therefore must have a predisposition toward extremism.

A senior diplomat in the Security Council reacted strongly and called out China’s blatant and obstructionist behaviour on Azhar. “China’s move to hold the listing is inconsistent with its own stated goals of combatting terrorism and furthering regional stability in South Asia,” the diplomat said.

“If China is serious about these goals, it should not protect terrorists from Pakistan or any other country from being held accountable to the Council.” Then came a warning: if China continues to block Azhar’s designation, “responsible member states may be forced to pursue other actions at the Security Council.”

The statement ended with: “It shouldn’t have to come to that.”

File photo of Maulana Masood Azhar in Islamabad, August 26, 2001. Credit: Reuters/Files

The blunt message means that some permanent members are willing to up the ante and turn up the heat on China even further. They are ready to take the issue to an open Security Council session – would the Chinese still protect Azhar in a public meeting when the rest of the 14 members want to declare him a terrorist?

Russia’s dilemma in such a situation would also be interesting – Moscow would find it hard to stay neutral as it has done so far. It would have to get off the fence.

The Masood Azhar drama unfolded as Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale completed his three-day visit to Washington with a round of meetings at the White House, the State Department and the US Congress. The daily statements from the US side kept up the pressure on Pakistan to take “tangible and irreversible action” to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism.

With this latest Chinese manoeuvre, the so-called spirit of Wuhan when the Chinese lured the Indian side to a summit – whether to reset the tone or the substance of the difficult relationship – should be buried. China has shown again and again it will not make concessions to India, on matters large or small.

Trade deficits or Masood Azhar – Beijing has given nothing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to brag about in election rallies. Nothing that the naked eye can see. Why Modi and his advisers spent precious political capital on what amounted to bolstering Xi Jinping against the Americans will remain a question.

Also read: In a First, India Shares Audio Clips at UN to Show Masood Azhar Promoting Jihad in Kashmir

And finally, the international community should take note that if Pakistan won’t relent on the relatively small matter of proscribing a self-described jihadist who openly says he wants to kill Indians, how serious can it be about its post-Pulwama pledges to take action against terrorists?

“Designating Azhar was a low-cost option for the Pakistan government. If they are not willing to absorb this, who can believe they will take on the terrorists for real and crush them?” a UN diplomat asked.

Some have said India should not expend energy trying to proscribe Pakistan’s never-ending parade of terrorists at the United Nations because it doesn’t matter in the end.

Actually, it does to a degree. China and Pakistan can’t be joyous about being seen as terrorist sympathisers by other countries.

For the amount of diplomatic capital spent by India, the gains are noteworthy. As a UN observer noted, “Diplomacy is about signals and incremental gains. The signal to China was very clear. India has repeatedly shown the world is standing with it.”

And China was alone. There was no other country that shared Xi Jinping Thought.

Seema Sirohi is a Washington DC-based commentator.