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EFSAS Commentary

China’s perversion of 'Consensus' displays its abject disregard for a Rule-Based International Order


Two bizarre and incongruous statements by the Chinese Government in the last few days have brought to the fore the country’s perturbation at the trade wars unleashed by US President Donald Trump on the one hand and China’s shifty credentials in the global war against terror on the other. That both the statements relate to India only aids in laying bare China’s double-speak and its convoluted disregard for a rule-based global order. 

China is reeling from the mercurial Trump’s trade war. This is evident from the 11 October statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi that surprisingly called for India and China to deepen bilateral economic cooperation to counter US trade protectionism. Counselor Ji Rong, spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in India, contended that "as the two largest developing countries and major emerging markets, China and India are both in the vital stage of deepening reform and developing economy, and both need stable external environment. Practicing unilateral trade protectionism in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘fair trade’ will not only affect China's economic development, but also undermine the external environment of India". He added that "facing unilateralism and bullying activities, China and India have more reasons to join efforts to build a more just and reasonable international order". His prescription for dealing with this situation was that "under the current circumstances, China and India need to deepen their cooperation to fight trade protectionism"

The Counselor did not restrict himself to trade-related issues. He asserted in the same breath that "the so-called 'militarization' of South China Sea by China is distorting of facts. The US should stop making troubles and creating tensions, and respect the efforts of relevant parties to resolve problems through negotiation and consultation". He also spoke vehemently against attempts to use the “so-called Indo-Pacific strategy as a tool to counter China”. On the exponentially growing concern expressed by governments and seasoned analysts of China seeking to make strategic gains through burdening unsuspecting and vulnerable smaller countries under huge debts in the guise of loans for development as part of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, he offered the feeble and meaningless counter that "the allegation that China has put some developing countries into 'debt trap' is nothing but an attempt to sow discord"

If anything, the Counselor’s statement appeared to be aimed at sowing discord between India and the US. His statement is mischievous on multiple counts. Delivered in New Delhi, it implied that it was made on the basis of a “consensus” arrived at between the Indian and Chinese Governments. He spoke on behalf of India much like an official spokesperson of the Indian Government ought to. The tone and tenor of his proclamations and prescriptions may have been worthy of a joint statement issued by representatives of the two Governments after a high-profile bilateral meeting, but no such meeting had alas been held. He sought to project a common Indian and Chinese position on issues such as the South China Sea and the US Indo-Pacific strategy whereas the reality is that India’s position on these issues is much closer aligned to the US in opposition to China’s. Above all, he totally overlooked the reality that India is perfectly capable of and much better placed than China to address all its issues with the US in a bilateral format in accordance with the rule-based order that mature and responsible democracies subscribe and adhere to. 

The Counselor, in effect, let out how palpably shaken China was by the trade war launched by the US. India would certainly not qualify as one of China’s close allies, the steadily growing trade relationship between the two large Asian powerhouses notwithstanding. Quite the contrary, China is the de facto guardian to and protector of Pakistan, the thorn in India’s skin. India and China share a disputed border on which flash points erupt periodically due to China’s expansionist zeal, and China utilizes all avenues available to it to stymie India’s growth and interests in the international arena including through use of its veto in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). 

Although trade between India and China has been growing steadily over the last two decades, the balance is heavily skewed in favour of China. In 2016-17, India’s trade deficit with China stood at a whopping $51.09 billion. This constituted nearly half of the gap between India’s overall imports and exports. The reason for this lopsided balance was eloquently explained in October 2017 by India’s former Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at a hearing on China of India’s parliamentary standing committee on external affairs, “I say this as having been ambassador (to China) for five years. This (trade imbalance) was my number one issue and we made no progress. They (the Chinese government) would keep promising, but not do anything. They have millions of non-tariff barriers”. It was, therefore, ironical and out of place for Counselor Ji Rong to suggest that "China and India need to deepen their cooperation to fight trade protectionism" in a milieu where India is at the receiving end of China’s own protectionism. As a means to even out the trade balance, Chinese President Xi Jinping had during a visit to India in 2014 committed to an investment of $20 billion in India over a period of five years. Vijay Gokhale, Jaishankar’s successor as Foreign Secretary, informed at another hearing of India’s parliamentary standing committee on external affairs in February this year that “very little” of the promised Chinese investment had materialized. 

Given this background, it is apparent that China’s overture as put forth by the Counselor is merely aimed at using India to its advantage at a time that it finds itself in a tough spot in the face of the US onslaught. India would see little benefit in jeopardizing its fast evolving strategic relationship with the US for paltry trade gains from an unreliable partner that has a history of going back on pledges whether they be on trade issues or on maintenance of peace along the McMohan line, the British-era boundary between India and China.    

China’s wider opposition to India’s aspirations in the international arena would also be a strong disincentive for the latter to align with the former for limited short-term benefits. In addition to the issues mentioned afore, in blatant violation of international norms China has embarked on the ambitious China Pakistan Economic Corridor project, the flagship venture of its OBOR, which passes through territory of the erstwhile princely State of Jammu & Kashmir, claimed by India. This is a core issue for India that China has chosen to disregard completely. Another such issue is China’s tacit support for Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism against India, as evidenced through its repeated blocking of designation of Masood Azhar, chief of Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), as a global terrorist by the Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee of the UNSC. 

In fact, the second Chinese statement averred to above relates to China’s defense of the repeated use of its veto in favour of Masood Azhar who has been responsible for several deadly terrorist attacks in India, including the one on the Uri military base in Jammu & Kashmir in 2016 in which 17 security personnel were killed. JeM has already been included in the UN’s list of banned terrorist organizations. Elaborating on the rationale behind China’s stand vis-à-vis Azhar, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated on 28 September in New York where he was attending the 73rd annual session of the United Nations General Assembly that “if all parties come to a consensus, we will support it. But it is the parties that are rightly concerned who are not coming around to the same conclusion, like India and Pakistan don't have the same conclusions". Wang further argued that listing of terrorists should be based on proof and claimed that there was not enough evidence against Masood Azhar. 

This statement too is abstruse. Masood Azhar and his JeM are creations of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and it is widely accepted internationally that he continues to enjoy their backing and patronage. The proof of Azhar’s involvement in terrorism is substantial enough for responsible democratic members of the UNSC such as the US, France and the United Kingdom to push for his inclusion on the list, but astonishingly not so for China. Pakistani agencies have been using Azhar to carry out terrorist attacks against India and were reportedly complicit in the hijacking of an Indian airplane in 1999 to secure Azhar’s release from an Indian prison. India has been at the receiving end of Pakistan’s proxy war carried out by terrorists such as Azhar. What is, therefore, most outlandish in Wang Yi’s statement is the Chinese demand that India arrive at a consensus with Pakistan regarding Azhar being a terrorist. By this reasoning, no murderer would ever be convicted as that would be dependent upon a consensus between him and his deceased victim.  

Wang Yi insists on “consensus” even between violator and victim while his Counselor needs no such “consensus” with another sovereign country before implicitly speaking on its behalf. 

Queer is the Chinese version of rule of law.