China knows its weaknesses, but it has made the world's weakness for finished goods its strength.

Pak terror Chinas taunt at India reeks of hypocrisy but its strong enough to get away with itPTI
Voices International Politics Monday, October 10, 2016 - 17:49

Late last week China defended extending a hold on India’s bid for a United Nations (UN) ban on JeM chief Masood Azhar, saying Beijing was opposed to anyone making “political gains in the name of counter terrorism”. Now China has said it is ‘ready’ for talks with India on its entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).  

By the first statement, and by repeatedly blocking the UN sanction against the terrorist Masood Azhar, Beijing has blood on its hands and stands culpable for the killing of Indian soldiers in Pathankot and Uri. The second statement is China flexing its international muscle and sending out a clear message on who the boss in the region is.

Beijing's own human rights record is dismal whether it is working its people to the bone or suppressing its religious minorities. Indians know the story of Dalai Lama but the revolt of the Uighurs in Xinjiang is gaining visibility only now.

Xinjiang which is China's largest administrative region borders eight countries namely Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and India. Most Uighurs are Muslim and Islam is an important part of their identity. Their language is linked to Turkish and they regards themselves culturally and ethnically close to the Central Asian countries. China is resettling troops and people in the region despite international condemnation.

It also remains unmoved for generations about Tibetans, including the incidents of self-immolation, which used to make international headlines. All is silent on that front as well and China has gone about the work of destroying Buddhist monasteries and places of worship on a war footing.

In 2014 the Nobel peace summit to be held in South Africa to honour the legacy of Nelson Mandela was cancelled as the South African government did not give the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist leader, a visa, reportedly under pressure from China. Other Laureates pulled out of the summit in protest, but they, or the countries they came from, could do little more than express regret. 

Is no one watching? Is no one watching the massacre of Syrian children first at the hands of the Americans and their allies and now the Russians? Geopolitics is ruthless where military might and economic strength change places not purpose. Cold War trenches are back with one major difference – there is no reference point anymore, as the world is hurtling on a winner-takes-all route with the majors getting increasingly protectionist and fiercely inward-looking.

The UN has no teeth and those who do show their power where it matters most to them, their people and their constituency. Economic diplomacy has replaced gunboat diplomacy but there too there are two measures and two weights for the winner to take all. India's trump card is its market and this one has to be navigated as deftly as possible. 

China plays for the long haul.  Every move it makes across the economic and military spectrum is a part of the puzzle whose pieces it holds close to the chest. For now the BRICS summit in Goa next weekend is not consuming the Chinese. Beijing must be looking, all eyes and ears peeled, at the elections in America with whom it has a $343 billion trade deficit.

Republican nominee Donald Trump has suggested a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods to narrow the trade deficit with China which means a decline of $420 billion.  This is impossible for various inter-connected reasons, the most important of which are America's capacity to consume and China's capacity to produce faster and cheaper. China's leftover jobs will not come to India, but there is no guarantee that the robots it manufactures will not take over the low end across the world.

India’s trade deficit with China increased to $51.86 billion in 2015. During this period India’s exports to China came in at $9.68 billion while imports were $61.54 billion. “Increasing trade deficit with China can primarily be attributed to the fact that Chinese exports to India rely strongly on manufactured items meeting the demand of fast-expanding sectors like telecom and power while India’s exports to China are characterised by primary products, raw material and intermediate products,” Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told the Lok Sabha in a written statement.

Beijing is most likely also keenly watching Moscow’s demand to America to roll back the expansion of NATO and a few other issues. Tensions  between Washington and Moscow have been growing over Syria and Russian President Vladimir Putin said recently that Moscow will stop abiding by a 16-year-old agreement regulating the disposal of plutonium. The suspension of the Plutonium Management and Disposal Agreement (PMDA) is a note to the next government that will be installed in Washington. Russia has reneged on the agreement due to what it calls “general tension” between the two countries. It is a symbolic gesture, but one that speaks to nuclear proliferation which is one of the key issues on which the NSG was built.

The PMDA is not the first agreement to be suspended in the world of non-proliferation, but it is one that none can ignore. If Russia is willing to throw the nuclear agreement into the potpourri what is to prevent China from doing so especially since most NSG members are heavily dependent on trade with China?

The Chinese are silent and strategic players. Their criticism of the Uri attacks was by far the most muted. They know their weaknesses – namely their human rights record – but they have turned their strengths into the world’s weakness, which is a growing demand for finished goods.  And they are expansionist.

Consider this. A few weeks ago a fleet of shiny new trains started plying between Ethiopia and Djibouti in a major boost to both economies. Built by two Chinese companies, the route links the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to the Red Sea port of Djibouti. A few years ago Beijing bought a port in cash-strapped Greece and Air China flies several times a week from Geneva to Beijing and the flights are often full.

What has all this got to do with terrorism and the NSG group, one may ask.

Plenty. In addition to being a Permanent Five (US, UK, France, Russia and China) at the UN, China has emerged as a major trading partner for all developed and developing countries. It has been buying raw material from around the world and sending back manufactured goods across the spectrum at prices few can compete with. From poor quality to sub-standard goods normally associated with it two decades ago (the various China bazaars in India are an example) to top-end products is the transformation it has achieved, giving the world a run for its money.

It is a bit rich for Beijing to shield an international terrorist but so did Washington with the help of Pakistan when Osama bin Laden was supposedly 'hiding' in Abbottabad while others were clueless. So long as China makes goods cheaper than the rest of the world, the world’s consumers will patronise Chinese movement of goods, services, people and finance.  The ‘technical’ reasons it has cited for holding on to Masood Azhar is poppycock. Washington, Paris, London and Moscow, all have blood on their hands.

It is not a pretty picture and you don’t have to be a strategic thinker to see the game. All that is required is to keep your ear to the ground, read and join the dots about interests. China is not the only stumbling block for India’s entry into the NSG. But Masood Azhar is a major problem for India. By making that connection, China has challenged India. Post the Uri attacks, India wants the world to isolate Pakistan when it has not applied any trade sanctions against Pakistan. Sanctions do not work, but they are signals countries pick up about intent and content. Time and actions will show how India rides out this challenge. 

In the meantime, let us stop making a laughing stock of ourselves by calling for a ban on Chinese products. They are part of India's economy and Make in India plans. 

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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