With its veto power in the United Nations Security Council, China has repeatedly blocked attempts to designate the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Masood Azhar as a global “terrorist” under the Council’s Al Qaida Sanctions Committee.. Even though the other members, notably the US, France and UK have backed the proposal, the Chinese have incredously maintained a “lack of consensus”, and “technically” stonewalled the application for the last couple of years. This Chinese leniency towards terror is rooted in its “all-weather-friendship” with Pakistan, one that is based on realpolitik.
Islamabad’s equation with Beijing has no civilizational, cultural or even ideological alignment. Such double standards are consistent with China’s expansionist designs that can often lead to questionable patronage of its other rogue clients, notably Kim Jong-un of North Korea, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, and till very recently, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
Despite the fact that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted Omar al-Bashir for war crimes against humanity and on charges of genocide during the conflict in the Darfur region, China regards the Sudanese warlord as an, “old friend of the Chinese people.”
The liberal Chinese recipe of managing its external affairs is in sharp contrast to its crackdown on Islamic insurgency ~ specifically the Uyghurs ~ in the Xinjian province. The Muslim Uyghurs are ethnically close to the cultures of the contiguous Central Asia, rather than that of the majority Han Chinese culture. The memories of the short-lived independence of the Uyghur nation in the 1940s as the ‘Second East Turkestan Republic’ have lapsed in the limbo of history, the relative opening up and increased interaction of the Chinese people with the outside world coincided with the global resurgence and assertion of Pan-Islamism. This reignited the dormant “Uyghuristan” insurgency. The Urumqi bombings in 1992, the bus bombings in 1997, the Aksu bombing in 2010, the Hotan attack in 2011 and the Urumqui attack in 2014 were condemned by the government in Beijing as the “Three Evils” ~ terrorism, separatism and religious extremism.
Today, the Chinese hyper-sensitivity towards any stirring of Islamic insurgency by the Uyghurs can yield a measure of paranoia, a trend that is almost unprecedented. Anyone under the age of 16 can be ordered to effect a name-change if that name sounds somewhat similar to such Islamic words as Mecca, Quran, Saddam, Jihad, Imam, Arafat, Hajj, Medina or even Islam (deemed to be “overly religious”)! At another remove, a move to compel the hapless Uyghurs to attend party rallies and express their loyalty to the Communist party is on the anvil.
Even the Quran, as published before 2012, was declared illegal for ostensibly carrying “extremist content”. Indeed, religion and religious practices are considered to be regressive and regarded as impediments to economic growth. Therefore, there is increasing attention to such matters as the construction of a mosque. It thus comes about that the traditional Chinese pagoda-style mosques are giving way to the Arabian-style shrines, the official line being that mosques “should not be luxurious or oversized” and “have to be in line” with China’s socialist values. Even basic adherence to cultural-religious identity, such as the fast in the holy month of Ramadan, was banned for Chinese civil servants. Religious ceremonies in marriages were discouraged in favour of bureaucratic-legal paperwork. There has also been a clampdown on “using the name of Halal to meddle in the secular life of others.”
The other ostensibly “extremist behaviours” include the ban on head scarves, veils and long beards from boarding public transport. Beyond the crackdown on such totems of one’s faith, the measures include the surrender of passports, mandatory GPS in cars, enforcement of family planning policies and rejection of state products and services that include radio and television programming. This culture of surveillance on the Uyghurs is part of what the Chinese President Xi Jinping calls the, “great wall of iron”, to safeguard Xinjiang.
Indeed there is an underground “East Turkestan Islamic Movement” (ETIM, or now called “Turkistan Islamic Movement”), which was rightfully declared as a terrorist organisation by the US State Department. More than 100 Uyghurs are estimated to have gone abroad to fight the ISIS. ETIM is said to be allied with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, and therefore Beijing has constantly urged Islamabad to take action against the group, given the threat of the terror organisation to specifically target components of the strategic China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) investments, including the ultra-sensitive and Chinese-funded port of Gwadar.
Recently, the Chinese Government asked Pakistan to step up security for its newly-appointed ambassador in Islamabad in the wake of threats to his life, by the ETIM. Although Pakistan has been selectively ambivalent about its relationship with various terrorist groups (e.g. the China-Pakistan agreement on routinely bailing out Masood Azhar), Islamabad was unequivocal on ETIM after it conducted the Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Its Defence Minister had stated, “We believe they (ETIM) have all been eliminated.
The fight against ETIM is our own fight. It’s not only China’s fight. It’s a joint fight against ETIM, between Pakistan and China, so there is absolutely no difference of opinion on the elimination of ETIM from our tribal areas.”
While China betrays extreme intolerance towards any form of religious assertion or call for freedom on its own soil, and actively seeks regional and global support for targeting Uyghur separatists, it shows no such sensitivity or urgency when it comes to backing India’s efforts to weaken the terror groups such the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), both based in Pakistan. Despite incontrovertible evidence of the complicity of Masood Azhar and his group in the terrorist outrages in India, China naïvely urges, “more deliberation”, while India can only allude to the inherent, consistent and patent duplicity in the Chinese behaviour.
Away from the media glare of Western journals, the Chinese government’s comprehension of the Islamic terror network, its funding from the Sheikhdoms and rogue agencies like the ISI, training centres in places like Pakistan and the impact of pussyfooting on technicalities (as in the case of Masood Azhar) are instances of double-think, almost deliberate. However, since the Chinese government is not answerable to anyone, including its own citizens, for any moral conundrum in retaining two very different recipes with the same ingredients, China betrays contrasting behaviour, with utter impunity.
(The writer IS Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry)