Ahead of the upcoming Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit, Pakistan will be paying particularly keen attention to exchanges between its two neighbours, China and India. The two countries have always shared an uneasy relationship as they vie for regional supremacy – something Pakistan has tried to take advantage of by developing a close alliance with China – but they are also dependent on each other for trade and investment. China is India’s largest trade partner, both in terms of total trade volume and total imports and this is something China would want to maintain. That might explain an apparent softening of China’s position on Indian membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group – till now. China has been at the forefront of a small bloc opposing Indian membership but it has now hinted that it may change its stance, but only if support for India is unanimous in the NSG. In practice, that will likely end up meaning that India is still kept out of the NSG for now but China’s softening rhetoric could clear the path to Indian membership at some point in the future.
Still, interactions between China and India are still laced with differences. China is putting a hold on an Indian move at the UN to have Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Mullah Azhar declared a terrorist and is accusing the Indians of trying to politicise counterterrorism. China was the only member of the UN Security Council to vote against a resolution which would have banned Azhar from travelling and frozen his accounts back in March and once its six month hold ended in November, India would have been able to get the move passed but China has now said it will extend the hold by another three months. Since China itself has little to no interest in Azhar, it is clear that it is doing this at Pakistan’s request. India has tried to use Azhar and the JeM as a cudgel against Pakistan and wants the two to be linked at the UN. This is why India is also likely to refuse China’s offer to act since as a mediator to sort its differences with Pakistan out. Modi is not one for diplomacy in any case, and especially not when the offer is coming from a Pakistani ally. Experts in China have also denounced plans by India to try and seal its border with Pakistan on the grounds that, even if it were technically possible, the damage it would do to trade and diplomacy would be long-lasting and perhaps irreversible. What should be clear in the run-up to the Brics meeting is that China, even while building bridges to India, is not about to abandon Pakistan as a vital regional ally.