New Delhi: Why did China concur with the UN Security Council resolution condemning the Phulwama terrorist massacre and Jaish-e-Mohammed’s involvement in it? Sections of the Narendra Modi government and the media are already crowing about what they visualize as China’s “change of heart”. Not so soon. China has yet to support Jaish terrorist leader Masood Azhar’s UN blacklisting and it might seek “depoliticization” of the listing process as desired in the joint statement of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia concluding the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman’s Pakistan visit. It is never easy to know why countries change tack and especially dictatorships and celebrations are premature until the core reasons for change are discovered or at least wisely guessed. For academics, knowledge of change factors gathered ten, twenty or even thirty years after the event continue to have relevance which additionally strengthens history-writing projects. But where possible, governments have to know about change in real time so adequate responses are made ready. It is as important not to exaggerate victory as it is critical to recognize change and understand it however incipient. With this brief introduction, let us try to understand, on the basis of materials available in the public domain, why China has leaned even an inch in favour of India and against Pakistani terrorism.

Modi government propaganda would seek to draw all credit to itself. It is just that, propaganda, and has little basis in fact. The Central government has done nothing different from previous governments to account for the change -- however fragile -- in Chinese thinking. Politically, diplomatically and militarily, India has no leverage over China. Let us not fool ourselves that the Wuhan summit between the Chinese and Indian strongmen was a great success and that Modi single-handedly orchestrated it. The fact of Wuhan is that the Chinese indulged a pretend statesman while extracting all they could in long interviews with nil return. They saw India’s response in Doklam for what it was: bluster followed by appeasement. No, it has nothing to do with the present regime which has zero strategic understanding. What could have made a little more difference is the tough posture adopted by the rest of the P-5 and especially the United States. After the trade battering at the hands of Donald Trump, China is a trifle scared of the seemingly unpredictable US president. After Trump condemned the Phulwama attack and asked Pakistan and China to rein in terror groups, possibly Beijing decided obstructionism was not the best policy in the circumstances and acquiesced in the UN Security Council resolution. This is conjecture. It would be well worth the effort if the ministry of external affairs and the national security establishment get to the bottom of this taking the assistance, if needed, of the covert services.

This writer, however, places his bet on another factor having stirred China to action. This is the fear that India, going forward, might shut out China from the vast and growing Indian economy. The trade war with the United States has taken a toll on the Chinese economy which can no longer be concealed. Alongwith that is the assault on Chinese giants like Huawei for security violations, industrial espionage, breach of sanctions laws and intellectual property theft and appropriations; besides, there is a growing backlash against strong-arming foreign entities to sell out in China. While the Narendra Modi government has not indicated punitive measures against China specific to the Phulwama incident, a section of the media, including this magazine, has argued vociferously in favour of it. Indeed, Huawei, which is in the crosshairs of the US and several other Western governments, put out a press release that there is no threat to its participation in the 5G mobile networks’ rollout in India. The way to hurt the Chinese is through their bellies. Going beyond Donald Trump, India must punish China not just for trade imbalances and generic malpractices but for being the power that sustains the terrorist state of Pakistan. This should be a well-considered multi-layered project involving economic and trade experts and industry and China would have to meet important Indian demands in stages to qualify for free trade with this country. Of all the factors that moves China today and which bestows it Major Power status, it is the economic and trade factors that are, arguably the most important. India’s huge market gives it a lever with China that must be ruthlessly employed. This is the era of geo-economics. Wars are unthinkable in the Nuclear Age.

Editor’s Note: It is scandalous that Narendra Modi should be shooting a documentary and picnicking in Corbett National Park for some four hours after the Phulwama massacre sent the nation into shock, agony and mourning. Modi’s narcissism clearly towers over national sentiments and interests. His defence for the Discovery channel shoot is pathetic and unconvincing and adds insult to the sacrifices of the forces. This is chillingly reminiscent of Adolf Hitler who never once visited German cities destroyed by Allied bombing to console survivors and mourn the dead despite the entreaties of Joseph Goebbels. One strongman is just like another.