During a recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Russia, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought out Chinese President Xi Jinping to voice India’s concern over Chinese support for Pakistan. Whereas Chinese support for Pakistan goes back decades, India is concerned about Beijing’s role in blocking a UN proposal targeting Pakistan. Pakistan was facing international rebuke in the UN for releasing the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks – Zakiur-Rehman Lakhvi – which killed hundreds in India, when China shut down debate.
China used its veto power to block the motion seeking to punish Pakistan, stating that there was insufficient evidence regarding the matter at hand, an allegation which India strongly denounces. China has long supported Pakistan, maintaining good relations with Islamabad; seeing the country as a means to balance against India. India has previously protested Chinese weapons sales to Pakistan, weapons which in turn are directed at India, Pakistan’s main geo-political and military rival.
India and Pakistan have long had frayed relations, fighting four wars (the last of which in 1999) and numerous small skirmishes. A key flash point between the two countries is the status of Kashmir, a region in the north-western section of the Indian subcontinent. Competing claims stemming back to the partition of British Raj in 1947 have seen the territory effectively partitioned along a line-of-control, with both countries maintaining claims over the entire region.
While China’s support of Pakistan in this matter can be explained in part because of geo-political interests, Beijing’s intercession is still somewhat perplexing. Beijing often touts the threat of Islamic terrorism (as personified by Uighur agitators) as a reason to crack-down at home in Xinjiang, and as a means to build rapport with similarly afflicted countries. Thus given China’s hard line stance on Islamists domestically, supporting the release of a terrorist in Pakistan sends mixed messages.
Due to this, India is wary of Chinese influence peddling and military connections with Pakistan. Another concern for India, is the creation of a $48 billion Sino-Pakistani economic corridor which runs through Pakistani controlled Kashmir. This has a dual effect of undermining Indian claims on the area, while simultaneously bolstering Pakistan’s de facto control, thus further entrenching the status quo.