There’s been much commentary in India (and from one Chinese scholar) suggesting the country scored a diplomatic victory at the BRICS Summit in Xiamen last week because the joint declaration made at the summit mentioned Pakistani terrorist outfits.
There are, however, strong reasons to conclude there was no special diplomatic gain (or loss) for India.
For one, consider the paragraph in question. The BRICS declaration from last Monday stated: ‘‘We, in this regard, express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al-Qaida and its affiliates including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir.’
As some observers have rightly pointed out, the words bear striking similarity to a passage in last year’s Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar, whose participant included China and Pakistan. Since Pakistan was willing to lend its name to a document that mentioned Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad in the same sentence as ISIL, Al Qaeda and ETIM, we can only conclude the declaration meant little. It also means that similar words from Xiamen will make no difference to Pakistan’s policies.
We should also note here that China has not publicly indicated it will remove its UNSC block on designating Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar a terrorist, something on which India has unwisely spent a great deal of diplomatic energy.
Secondly, China’s approval of the paragraph probably has little to do with Indian actions. As Rohan Mukherjee of Yale-NUS College notes, if you discount the possibility of an oversight, there are two potential explanations for why China agreed to the inclusion of the paragraph. One possibility is that it was a concession from the Chinese during the secret negotiations over the Doklam impasse. This is very unlikely because the declaration was negotiated long before the summit and involved other BRICS countries. Also, as Mukherjee points out, entertaining this possibility ‘assumes that China needed a peaceful resolution at Doklam more than India did, which is far from the truth—in fact, both sides were eager to de-escalate and avoid conflict.’
The other explanation, and in Mukherjee’s view the most plausible one, is that China is genuinely concerned about the threat violent actors in Pakistan and Afghanistan pose to its Belt and Road Initiative and other investments. If that’s the case, the paragraph in the BRICS declaration simply reflects this Chinese concern.
Thirdly and finally, there’s no sign the BRICS declaration has caused significant problems in China-Pakistan relations. Just days after the summit wound up, China’s foreign ministerWang Yi held a press conference in Beijing along with his Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Asif in which he described Pakistan as a ‘good brother and iron friend’. Wang also defended Pakistan’s record on fighting terrorist groups: ‘When it comes to the issue of counter-terrorism, Pakistan has done its best with a clear conscience. In comparison, some countries need to give Pakistan the full credit that it deserves.’
More broadly, China-Pakistan ties have deep roots that will not be shaken by a few words in a BRICS declaration. Even as some in India were gloating last week, the two countries began the sixth annual instalment of their large-scale joint air exercise, Shaheen. Indeed, as the foremost contemporary chronicler of China-Pakistan relations pointed out recently, ties between the two countries have blossomed in recent years, giving other major powers like the US less leverage over Pakistan.
In summary, the BRICS declaration was not a departure from the past for China, and it’s improbable to conclude the passage concerning terrorist groups was included because India exerted some leverage over China. The declaration will also not change Pakistan’s behaviour and will not affect its ties with China.