A month after China stalled the listing of Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist for the fourth time in 10 years by placing a technical hold, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale will be headed to Beijing on Sunday for his first bilateral meeting with key Chinese interlocutors since the technical hold was placed.
Sources said the meetings will take place on April 22 (Monday), and is part of "regular diplomatic consultations". He will meet his counterpart Kong Xuanyou and call on Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi during the visit.
The meeting was "pre-scheduled", sources said, since it comes just three days before the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) meeting which won’t be attended by India. The BRF is likely to be attended by Pakistan PM Imran Khan.
India has opposed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative as it violates India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty — the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan — and had boycotted the BRF held in Beijing in May 2017.
Sources said that the foreign secretary visits many countries as part of regular consultations, and was recently in Washington and Moscow. He will be visiting Berlin from Beijing, they said.
His China visit assumes significance since, in a fresh move to list Azhar as a global terrorist, a resolution was moved in March end in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for discussions leading to a public vote.
Since China has single-handedly blocked it four times at the UNSC Resolution 1267 Sanctions committee, three UNSC members — US, supported by UK and France — have moved the resolution at the Council.
Beijing has not taken very well to the proposal and has been resisting the discussion at the open forum and public voting procedure.
Traditionally, the UNSC delegates its authority to sanction terrorists to the sanctions committees. But, when a listing has been blocked for more than a decade, the UNSC can decide to discuss the issue in the council itself, and put it to public voting.
After last month’s technical hold by Beijing — which buys them six months’ time — New Delhi had said it was "disappointed" by the outcome but will continue to pursue all available avenues to ensure that terrorist leaders are brought to justice.
Just about an hour before the deadline was to expire on March 13 at 3 pm New York time – 12.30 am IST – China had placed the technical hold. This means that the proposal is in a deep freeze for six months, and can be extended for another three months, after which it has to be blocked. Technically, in the next nine months, the member countries can provide information to the committee for lifting the hold, and Azhar can still be listed.
China, which considers Pakistan its "all-weather ally" and "iron brother", did not yield to intense diplomatic pressure from the US, France, UK, Russia and India.
Sources said the issue is likely to be one of the major issues of discussion, since India had mounted a diplomatic offensive across the world.
Over the last 10 years, China had single-handedly blocked the listing of Azhar as a "global terrorist" at the UNSC Resolution 1267 sanctions committee, and this time was no different. Three attempts, in 2009, 2016 and 2017, have been blocked by Beijing at Islamabad’s behest.
Sources said that China signing off on the condemnation press statement by the UNSC, after the February 14 Pulwama terrorist attack, has given some hope to New Delhi that Beijing may shift its position. It has also not taken a very strong position on February 26 airstrikes in Balakot, perceived to be a good signal for Delhi.
In fact, Delhi has been very measured in its statement against Beijing after the technical hold – as it had not named China and had said that it "will continue to pursue all available avenues to ensure that terrorist leaders who are involved in heinous attacks on our citizens are brought to justice".
Gokhale’s visit is being seen in that context, especially since External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had travelled to Beijing, soon after the Balakot air strikes and had met Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi. Sources had then described the meeting as "positive".
However, China has remained unmoved as Beijing has said that the "only solution that is acceptable to all sides can be the solution of the issue". It has also said that it will continue to adopt a "responsible attitude" and participate in the deliberations at the UNSC 1267 committee.