ISLAMABAD -- China has backed Belt and Road partner Pakistan and earned the global community's ire by blocking an Indian request to blacklist the leader of a Pakistan-based militant group that claimed responsibility for last month's suicide bombing in Kashmir.
At a committee meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, China vetoed a resolution to designate Masood Azhar, leader of Jaish-e-Mohammad, a global terrorist. The resolution was intended to subject the leader of the anti-India Islamist group to a global travel ban, an asset freeze and an arms embargo.
Experts see China's move as a sign that Beijing is ready to go to any extent to protect a strategic Belt and Road partner.
The attack on Feb. 14 killed at least 40 paramilitary troops. It was the deadliest suicide bombing of Kashmir's 30-year insurgency and escalated tensions between two nuclear powers.
Lu Kang of China's Foreign Ministry said Beijing is conducting a comprehensive and in-depth review on the proposal to blacklist Azhar. "We need more time and decided to put a technical hold," Lu said.
Before this week, Beijing had thrice vetoed similar proposals regarding Azhar. Experts see China's close alliance with Pakistan's military establishment as being behind its protection of the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammad, also known as JeM.
India was quick to express its disappointment. "We 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," the Indian government said in a statement.
The U.S. also showed signs of impatience. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino said Azhar meets the criteria to be branded a "global terrorist" by the U.N. China's opposition to the resolution, which would have "updated" the designation list, goes against the interests of Washington and Beijing in achieving regional stability and peace, he added.
Social media users across India have started a campaign to boycott Chinese products. In the year through March 2018, China exported $76.38 billion worth of goods and service to India.
Andrew Small, senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshal Fund's Asia Program, said there is no question China is frustrated with having to continue defending Pakistan on this issue, using up political capital. "There are not open divisions between [Pakistan and China] on sensitive security issues," he added.
Small added that a certain level of Chinese pressure on Pakistan can be expected, that China desires progress on the issue of acting against the perpetrators of the attack in Pulwama district which brought Pakistan and India close to war.
Islamabad began cracking down on JeM earlier this month. Prime Minister Imran Khan said no militant group would be allowed to launch attacks from or operate on Pakistani soil.
"China has blocked resolutions against Masood Azhar in the past," said James Dorsey, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. "And nothing has changed from its perspective to make a different decision this time." Dorsey added that when it comes to protecting its strategic interests, China does not worry about how the global community might react.
Beijing has targeted Islamabad as a major strategic partner and has put together $62 billion worth of infrastructure projects known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The projects form a crucial leg of Chinese President Xi Jinping's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.
This Security Council veto, however, comes as China and Pakistan quarrel over the CPEC. After Khan came to office in August, CPEC projects have not progressed smoothly. Beijing last year refused to immediately bail out Islamabad in the face of a severe balance of payments crisis.
Now Beijing, through its veto, is showing that it values its strategic partnership with Pakistan for the sake of its own regional interests.
But its veto can also be seen as an attempt to rekindle enthusiasm in Pakistan for strengthening economic cooperation with China, some analysts say.
Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to seek financial assistance from abroad. It recently failed to secure a $3.2 billion facility to buy oil on credit from the United Arab Emirates. Pakistani Finance Minister Asad Umar told local media recently that an oil facility agreement with the UAE will not materialize.
For Islamabad, the pressure to build its foreign reserve is increasing as its balance of payments crisis deepens.