Pranab Mukherjee in China: What the visit means for Delhi-Beijing ties

President Pranab Mukherjee is on his way to China today, at a time when relations between the two Asian giants have come under some strain due to Beijing's support to Islamanbad, its trusted all weather friend both at the United Nations (UN) and as it now appears at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

The President will fly in to Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong, which is the only Chinese province with an economy of over US one trillion dollars. Here, he will meet the governor of the province as well as the leader of the Chinese Communist Party. He will leave for Beijing on Wednesday evening and meet with the Chinese leadership. He will also interact with business leaders, vice-chancellors and address students and teachers in Peking university.

Against this background, President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit is even more significant. The President has long years of experience in government. He has been India’s foreign, defence and finance minister during the last 10 years of UPA regime. So, he knows the issues well and is expected to probe China on these issues and convey India’s disappointment to his hosts.

India was furious when Beijing once again played the Pakistan card at the UN. India had wanted Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar placed in the list of terrorists. His outfit, the JeM, was listed in the UNSC Committee as a terror outfit as far back as 2001. China has twice blocked India’s move on "technical grounds." India had charged the JeM and Masood Azhar to be the key perpetrator behind the recent Pathankot attack. Earlier too, Jaish had conducted several attacks against soft targets in India.

President Pranab Mukherjee. AP

President Pranab Mukherjee. AP

New Delhi believes that Beijing is being selective on terrorism. The UNSCR 1267 sanctions regime, covers individuals and entities and is an important building block of the UN global counter terrorism strategy. China, in the past, had voted with the rest of the international community on branding Jaish-e-Mohammed a terror outfit. Its reluctance to do so against Masood, the leader of the group, is inexplicable. The Modi government has raised this issue in every bilateral meeting with the Chinese and President Pranab Mukherjee is expected to also do the same.

In fact, he has already given broad indications, in an interview to the CCTV ahead of his visit. "India always believes that every country should have a zero tolerance policy towards terrorism and the fight should be all out. India and China are both huge countries — multicultural, multiracial — if they come together in fighting this menace, I am sure it will have its own impact."

India has also poked China where it hurts. Last month, New Delhi gave permission to Chinese dissidends to gather in Dharamsala for a conference on promotion of democracy. Though that was not without a couple of hitches. Uyghur dissident Dolkun Isa was given an e-visa which was withdrawn when it was found he had a red corner notice against him. However, it irked China, considering that those who attended the conference was also meeting Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who China considers a "splitist" and enemy number one.

While India may be making a fuss over Masood Azhar, the UN sanctions against him mean very little. He is operating from Pakistani soil and there is little the UN can do to enforce its will. Islamabad has always protected anti-India elements whether it is Hafiz Saeed or Azhar. This effort at the UN was mainly to draw international attention to the Pathankot terror attack and tell the domestic audience that Delhi is doing its best to hurt the Jaish-e-Mohammed leader.

But what will hurt India is not sanctions against Azhar, but China’s decision to scuttle its entry to the Nuclear Suppliers Group unless Pakistan is also given similar access. Beijing has already made it known that many NSG member states, were thinking on the same line as China — that those who had not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) should not be members of the non-proliferation regime.

India, Pakistan and Israel are three countries who have refused to sign on the dotted line. Pakistan has also send in its application for entry to the NSG. China’s point is if India is allowed, why should Pakistan be rejected. The shadow boxing has begun and China is certainly on the opposing side.

While China may relent over Masood Azhar, it will be difficult to convince them on NSG. The American’s will have to do some heavy lifting for India’s entry. With China–US ties under some strain over the South China Sea, Beijing is looking at the growing warmth in India-US ties with some concern. President Barak Obama’s visit to Vietnam and the announcement that the last vistages of the old US arms embargo has been lifted, will worry China even more. India and Vietnam are old friends. Chinese are anxious about US ranging Vietnam, Phillipines, Japan and India into a loose coalition to contain China in the Asia-Pacific region.

Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to and hit the Subscribe button.

Updated Date: May 24, 2016 13:57:59 IST

Also See