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The BRICS Summit and Chinese Stakes in Regional Stability

At last year’s BRICS Summit, China actively blocked Indian attempts at getting the international community to label Pakistan as a hub of terrorism. China’s diplomatic support at that time prevented sanctions that could have been severely damaging to Pakistan’s economic and political interests.

When last year China rushed to Pakistan’s aid, India accused China of having “double standards”. But China was unmoved.

After this year’s BRICS declaration, the director of the Chinese government-affiliated China Institute of Contemporary International Relations said, “It is beyond my understanding how China agreed to this […] Pakistan will be very upset. After Trump’s denouncement of Pakistan, it is already feeling pressure.”

The US President while announcing the country’s new Afghan policy warned Pakistan against sheltering terrorist groups. This public chastising of Pakistan together with China’s agreement to condemn Pakistan-based terror groups, like the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in the BRICS declaration, are evidence of the changing regional realities and security dynamics.

For the first time Pakistan’s enemy, India and its supposed best friend, China seem to be on the same page. This is an alarming turn of events.

Perhaps China recognizes that it has greater stakes in regional stability now than it ever did before. It is economically invested in not only Pakistan, but also its neighbors. Its security concerns in South Asia are much more pronounced today with a growing China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the competition it faces from US and India for great power status. Amid these motivations the need to secure its alliance with Pakistan is significant, but at the same time so is pushing Pakistan to revisit its security policy.

The security risks present today pose serious challenges to the growth of CPEC and the safety of Chinese nationals working on the project. Recognizing this, CPEC also includes a very crucial security facet. “A full system of real-time monitoring and 24 hour surveillance in major cities, and the construction of explosive detectors and scanners for major-roads, case-prone areas and crowded places” are all part of CPEC.

The number of Chinese nationals moving into Pakistan has increased immensely after the introduction of CPEC: Chinese residents in Pakistan have tripled to about 30,000. There is a designated ‘Special Security Division’ of 9,000 Pakistan Army soldiers and 6,000 paramilitary forces to guarantee the security of Chinese men and women working on CPEC. The kidnapping and killing of a Chinese couple in Quetta by Islamic State affiliates in June once again highlighted the very real security threat.

China also has interests in Afghanistan which are again limited due to the high risks associated with growing terrorism in the region. China is engaged politically, militarily and economically with Afghanistan. The Chinese National Petroleum Corp is tapping into Afghan oil reserves, extracting 1.5 million barrels of oil from the Amu Darya basin in northern Afghanistan annually. There are untapped mineral resources estimated to be worth around $1 trillion in Afghanistan, which Beijing believes can be of great use in its economic expansion.

For China, there is also the threat of dissidents in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region bordering Afghanistan coordinating with extremists like the al-Qaeda-linked East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which seeks an independent Uyghur homeland in the northwest of China.

Even though China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has restated confidence in Pakistan’s intentions and ability in the fight against terrorism and Beijing has also asked Pakistan not take the BRICS declaration as a sign of a changing Pakistan policy, there are enough reasons to believe otherwise. China’s evolving security concerns and development plan for the region depends on a stable regional and security environment. It will no doubt benefit from Pakistan cracking down on terror outfits that may be residing in the country.

For now, the 2017 BRICS declaration is only a gentle nudge. China has made its capacity to alter its policy stance clear. Pakistan must revisit its security and strategic calculus. It cannot stand to lose the support of its most trusted and only long-standing neighbor.

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