It is not far-fetched to call China a major beneficiary of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Distracted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the world has almost forgiven China’s role in the spread of the Wuhan virus and the unrecoverable economic and human losses attached to it.
Fully focused on a possible capture of Kiev by the Russian forces, the western media has forgotten China’s onslaught on democratic institutions and annexation of Hong Kong; the genocide and environmental catastrophe in Xinjiang and Tibet; and China’s near-future plans to capture Taiwan.
There are reports of China planning to supply weapons to help Russia consolidate gains in Ukraine. Not only that, Beijing is asking its allies like Pakistan to extend moral and strategic support to Russia. At Beijing’s advice, Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan visited Moscow on the day war broke out. Like the Syrians and Chechens, Pakistani military would not want to be left behind in case Russia requires additional manpower of mercenaries. This way, Pakistan would try to float its fledgling economy and enable China advance its vision of forming a counter military force to NATO with potential inclusion of Syria, Afghanistan and Iran.
Pakistan is Beijing’s satellite and its rulers have outsourced country’s foreign policy to the Chinese Communist Party. China values Pakistan’s strategic role in the Persian Gulf and Middle East and intends to use as anchor to boost dividends in the Indian Oceanic Region. China has built itself a role in Pakistani politics through the multi-billion dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and has invested heavily in Pakistani politicians and military generals to promote interests at the cost of Pakistani taxpaying citizens. China’s insistence to maintain secrecy over the terms of CPEC undermines Pakistani constitution and weakens sovereignty of democratic institutions over natural resource management, something that Pakistani military happily welcomes.
However, this relationship is built on rocky grounds since the sole physical conduit between Pakistan and China passes through the UN-declared disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). The United Nations Security Council expects Pakistan to withdraw its military from GB and end illegal siege, however, over decades, Islamabad has found it more profitable to let the communist party of China turn this territory into an extension of Xinjiang.
Like in Tibet or in Balochistan, China is exploiting natural resources in GB without the consent or benefit to the locals. GB is also vital as the cargo heading from the Middle East to eastern China would take seven times less time and resources to move through GB as compared to the month long arduous journey through the Malacca Straits and East China Sea.
In addition, GB has potential to generate over 60,000 megawatts of hydro energy, which China could use in Xinjiang to build new settlements for illegal and inhumane demographic change. Like in Xinjiang, Pakistan with China’s support is violating ethnic, linguistic and religious demography in GB and the growth of unholy alliance between both nations will only intensify this abuse against minorities.
With the help of Pakistan, Russia and other allies, China will only get bolder and threaten and isolate vulnerable nations aspiring for co-existence, equality, mutual respect and sovereignty. The model of top-down autocratic governance if replicated in countries dependent on Beijing for financial support will jeopardize constitutional supremacy and undermine the safety and free will of its inhabitants. A nexus that is being developed to undermine democratic setups, open borders and free trade is not just a threat for Gilgit and Xinjiang, but the entire world.
Senge Sering is the President of Gilgit Baltistan Institute in Washington D.C.