Published Twice a Month
March 13, 2019 – March 27, 2019

Centre on Asia and Globalisation
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

Guest Column

In the Shadow of the New Leviathan:
Chinese Influences in the 2019 Indo-Pakistani Conflict

By Xu Shengwei

TiananmenStatue_1200x800Photo by Matthias Rosenkranz from

The most recent conflict between India and Pakistan broke out on February 14, 2019 when Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), a Pakistan-based terrorist group, attacked a convoy of buses carrying Indian security forces on the Srinagar-Jammu highway leading to the deaths of at least 46 soldiers.[1] India blamed the attack on Pakistan since JeM has continued to covertly operate in the country despite being officially banned.[2] On February 20, the Indian cabinet minister in charge of water resources, Nitin Gadkari, went as far as threatening to divert three rivers that originated in India, so as to stop them from flowing into Pakistan, depriving the latter of water supplies.[3] The situation further escalated when the Indian Air Force (IAF) attacked the so-called “terrorist camps” located in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir on February 26. The very next day, the Pakistani air force (PAF) shot down at least one IAF MiG-21 fighter jet and captured its pilot, claiming that he had violated Pakistani airspace.[4] The situation seems to have eased after the downed pilot was returned to India on March 2.[5]

On the surface, this incident appears like the latest episode of the decades-long conflict between India and Pakistan. However, the crisis was not just a bilateral matter between the two South Asian countries. From India’s water threat, to the downing of the IAF MiG-21, all the way to the de-escalation of the crisis, the shadow of China is evident throughout the tensions.

This is not the firlatterst time that India has threatened to cut off the water supply to Pakistan. In September 2016, after a series of skirmishes between India and Pakistan, the spokesperson for the Indian foreign ministry had implicitly suggested that India could revoke the 1960 Indus Water Treaty (IWT), which had allocated the western rivers of the Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum to Pakistan and the eastern rivers of the Beas, Ravi, and Sutlej to India.[6] Despite the threat by Gadkari, any attempt by India to revoke the IWT could have resulted in severe political repercussions. This is because Pakistan’s ally, China, which also has territorial and water disputes with India, could well decide to slow or disrupt the flow of the Yarlung Tsangpo-Brahmaputra River. Such a move would be disastrous for northeastern India.

On the other hand, while details remain unclear, it is certain that at least one MiG-21 belonging to the IAF was shot down. Many sources claim that it is possible that a JF-17 belonging to the PAF might have shot down the MiG-21.[7] Once again, we see the shadow of China: the JF-17 is a fighter that is jointly produced by Pakistan and China. It is equipped with a Chinese license-built Klimov RD-93 turbofan engine and armed with Chinese-made PL-12 missiles, which allegedly shot down the MiG-21 of the IAF.[8] If this is indeed the case, then it would constitute the “first kill” of the PAF using a predominantly Chinese-designed JF-17 and Chinese missiles.[9]

While a JF-17 that is jointly produced by Pakistan and China might have shot down a MiG-21 using Chinese-made missiles, such a kill is only made possible with Pakistan’s sophisticated aerial combat and anti-air command systems supported by China.[10] Since 2010, the PAF has been equipped with a squadron of Chinese-made ZDK-03 aerial early warning aircrafts, which are deployed in southern Pakistan. The ZDK-03 is equipped to communicate with the above mentioned JF-17 of the PAF. It is also believed that at least one of the ZDK-03 is installed with datalink equipment that enables it to communicate with all aircraft in the arsenal of the PAF, “particularly its F-16, and not just the JF-17.”[11] Usually, the early warning aircraft would pick up the target, and then the information on the target and command to strike would be conveyed to the fighter jet.[12] If the IAF MiG-21 was indeed shot down by a JF-17, then it is highly possible that the MiG-21 was first picked up as a target by the ZDK-03, and the command to fire was conveyed by the latter to the JF-17. In other words, the MiG-21 was not only shot down by a Chinese aircraft using Chinese missiles; it was also first identified by a Chinese aerial early warning aircraft. As such, the first “confirmed kill” of the PAF during this conflict was made fully possible by exclusive Chinese-supported hardware.

Last but not least, on the very night of the capture of the IAF pilot, the foreign minister of Pakistan phoned his Chinese counterpart to inform China of the latest in the conflict. He also expressed his hope that China would continue to play a “constructive role” in easing tensions between Pakistan and India. While the exact content of their communication is unknown, the fact that the Pakistani foreign minister phoned Wang in the middle of the night to inform him of the situation and hoped for Chinese mediation showed that China played a part in advising Pakistan. It may have contributed thereafter to the defusing the crisis between Pakistan and India.[13]

In conclusion, while the most recent episode between India and Pakistan seemed on the surface like a conflict between the two South Asian countries, the shadow of China loomed large. It not only provided Pakistan with military support that enabled it to stand up against India, but it also likely provided political advice to Islamabad.

Xu Shengwei is a Research Assistant at the Centre on Asia and Globalisation (CAG). He holds a Masters in Arts (Philosophy) from the University of Tuebingen and a Bachelor of Arts (Double Major in European Studies and Political Science) degree from the National University of Singapore. His research interests include political philosophy, Sino-centric political theories, and governance.

[1] “Pulwama attack: India will ‘completely isolate’ Pakistan”, BBC, February 15, 2019. Available at Accessed March 5, 2019.

[2] Asfandyar Mir, “The Kashmir attack could prompt a crisis in South Asia. Here’s why”, Washington Post, February 15, 2019. Available at Accessed March 5, 2019.

[3] “India will stop its share of Indus water to Pakistan, says Nitin Gadkari”, Business Today, February 21, 2019. Accessed March 5, 2019.

[4] David Cenciotti, “Indian Air Force MiG-21 Bison Shot Down By Pakistan Air Force Jet”, The Aviationist, February 27, 2019. Available at Accessed March 5, 2019.

[5] Abu Arqam Naqash & Fayaz Bukhari, “India refuses to share proof of strikes in Pakistan amid doubts of militant deaths”, Reuters, March 2, 2019. Available at Accessed March 5, 2019.

[6] Ipsita Chakravarty, “India should not use Indus Waters Treaty to quench thirst for action against Pakistan after Pulwama”,, February 23, 2019. Available at Accessed March 5, 2019.

[7] Franz-Stefan Gady, “Has Pakistan’s JF-17 ‘Thunder’ Block II Fighter Jet Engaged in its First Dogfight?”, The Diplomat, February 28, 2019. Available at Accessed March 6, 2019

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Shi Yang, “Bajisitan kongjun zheme nengda, bujin kao zhandouji, haiyao kao zhongguo de…” (“The PAF is so capable not just because of Chinese jets, but also Chinese…”), Guanchazhe (The Observer), February 27, 2019. Available at Accessed March 6, 2019

[11] Usman Ansari, “Pakistan Re-equips Squadron With AEW&C Planes”, Defense News, February 28, 2015. Available at Accessed March 6, 2019

[12] Shi, 2019.

[13] “Wang yi guowu weiyuan jian waizhang tong bajisitan waizhang kuleixi tong dianhua” (“State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi had a telephone conference with the Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi”), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, PR China, February 28, 2019. Available at Accessed March 6, 2019.

The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy or the National University of Singapore.

News Reports

Bilateral relations

China destroys 29,000 maps showing Arunachal as part of India
The Times of India, March 27

Chinese authorities have destroyed nearly 29,000 world maps that showed Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India. The maps were destroyed as they contradicted Beijing’s claim that India’s north-eastern frontier state is an extension of China’s Tibetan region.

Experts from India, China hold track II dialogue with an eye on broadening overall engagement
The Times of India, March 26

A group of strategic affairs experts and academics from India and China held a high-level track-II dialogue in Manesar, India, with a broader aim to expand overall engagement between the two Asian giants including in defence and security spheres.

India signals to boycott China's Belt and Road Forum for second time
India Today, March 20

India on Wednesday (March 20) signalled that it will boycott China's second Belt and Road Forum for a second time, saying no country can participate in an initiative that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Dalai Lama contemplates Chinese gambit after his death
Reuters, March 18

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, said on Monday it was possible that once he dies his incarnation could be found in India, where he has lived in exile for 60 years, and warned that any other successor named by China would not be respected.

China foils bid to blacklist JeM chief Masood Azhar; U.S., India vow to keep pushing
Reuters, March 14

China prevented a U.N. Security Council committee on Wednesday from blacklisting the head of Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which said it attacked an Indian paramilitary convoy in disputed Kashmir.

News Reports

China and India in the Region

Italy agrees to return nearly 800 Chinese cultural relics in goodwill gesture during Xi Jinping visit
South China Morning Post, March 24

Italy has agreed to return nearly 800 cultural relics to China, a goodwill gesture during President Xi Jinping’s high-profile trip to Rome that saw the country become the first Western European nation to join Beijing’s controversial “Belt and Road Initiative”.

China maintains 'open attitude' towards Indian investments in Sri Lanka
CGTN, March 22

China on Thursday (March 21) stated it maintains an "open attitude" towards India and other nations having mutually beneficial cooperation with Sri Lanka, after Colombo announced signing a 3.85-billion U.S. dollar deal with an Indian private company-led joint venture to build an oil refinery near the Chinese-built and operated Hambantota port.

India-Pak Tension Dominates First China, Pakistan Strategic Dialogue
NDTV, March 20

The India-Pakistan tensions following the Pulwama terror attack became the focal point of the first strategic dialogue between the foreign ministers of Pakistan and China on Tuesday (March 20) as Beijing urged the global community to take a "fair perspective" of Islamabad's commitment to fight terrorism.

China says played 'constructive role' in reducing Pakistan, India tension
Channel News Asia, March 19

China played a "constructive role" in reducing tension between Pakistan and India, the foreign ministry said, after the nuclear-armed rivals almost came to blows last month following an attack on an Indian paramilitary convoy in disputed Kashmir.

BRICS to focus on counter-terror cooperation as priority area
The Hindu Business Line, March 16

BRICS, a bloc of five leading nations, including India and China, will discuss counter-terror cooperation as one of its priority areas during its annual summit later this year.

Nepali gov't endorses protocol of Nepal-China Transit Transport Agreement: official
Xinhua, March 15

The Nepali government endorsed the protocol of Nepal-China Transit Transport Agreement (TTA) and authorized its commerce secretary to sign the protocol, a cabinet minister of Nepali government has said on Thursday (March 14).

News Reports

Trade and Economy

India yet to gain from US-China standoff

The Hindu Business Line, March 26

Contrary to expectations, Indian farm commodity exporters have not benefited from the ongoing trade war between the United States and China.

Chinese funds hiring Indian executives to help with increased deal flow
Livemint, 25 March

Shunwei Capital, which has made investments in Indian startups such as ShareChat, Krazybee, Cashify and Pratilipi, has hired Arpit Beri. The move underscores the importance of the Indian startup market for Chinese funds, which have been heavily investing in India over the last two years.

India Concerned Over Widening Trade Deficit Of $58 Billion With China
NDTV, March 20

India on Wednesday expressed concern over widening trade deficit with China which has ballooned to over USD 58 billion, with the country's new envoy in Beijing saying that addressing the issue would be his top priority.

Xiaomi ramps up investment as India presence expands
Global Times, March 19

Chinese smartphone manufacturer and internet company Xiaomi has increased its investment in India by $507 million, its largest tranche since entering the market, to expand its Mi stores and invest in home appliances. The investment will cover water purifiers, washing machines, laptop computers and refrigerators, according to media reports on Monday (March 18).

Indian traders burn Chinese goods in protest over blacklisting veto, trade
Reuters, March 19

Hundreds of Indian traders burned Chinese goods on Tuesday (March 19) and urged the government to raise import taxes on them to protest against China’s trade and foreign policies.

News Reports

Energy and Environment

India, China, US see 70% rise in energy demand: IEA
The Economic Times, March 26

China, the US and India together accounted for nearly 70 per cent of the rise in energy demand, even as such demand worldwide grew by 2.3 per cent last year, at its fastest pace this decade, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Tuesday (March 26).

India Emerged as the Third Largest Solar Market in 2018 Behind China and US
Mercom, March 26

India was the third largest solar market behind China and the United States with 8.3 GW of solar PV capacity installed in 2018. Japan and Germany were the fourth and fifth largest solar markets in the world.

Record Carbon Emissions Seen as Energy Use Grew Most in Decade
Bloomberg, March 26

Carbon emissions from fossil fuel use hit a record last year after energy demand grew at its fastest pace in a decade, reflecting higher oil consumption in the U.S. and more coal burning in China and India.

India jumps 2 spots on WEF’s global Energy Transition index, beats China
Financial Express, March 25

India has moved up two places to rank 76th on a global energy transition index, which has ranked 115 economies on how well they are able to balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability.

China phases out 280,000 tonnes of ozone-depleting substances
Xinhua, March 19

China announced Tuesday that it has phased out a total of 280,000 tonnes of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) scheduled in the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

China on EV fast track, but no sign of large scale replacements of conventional vehicles: Experts
China Daily, March 15

China plays a key role in electric vehicle (EV) development but there is no sign of large scale replacements of conventional vehicles in the near future, analysts have said at the five-day IHS Markit's CERAWeek in Houston, the US state of Texas.


New and emerging concerns in Indian Ocean neighbourhood
Observer Research Foundation, March 25

By N Sathiya Moorthy, Senior Fellow & Director of the Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF)

In the midst of the post-Pulwama air-strikes and bilateral tensions involving Pakistan, most of India missed out another critical news item. In an ‘advisory opinion’ as different from a verdict, The Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) said the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean belonged to Mauritius, and not to the UK. Looked closely over the medium and long-term future, it may have implications for the prevailing/perceived ‘rules-based’ system prevalent in the Indian Ocean neighbourhood, where nations like Sri Lanka, Maldives and India are the other shared stake-holders.

Modi playing China card to win election
Global Times, March 25

By Zhao Gancheng, Research Fellow, Shanghai Institute for International Studies (SIIS).

Not long before India's general elections scheduled from April 11 to May 19, the standoff between India and Pakistan had reached a climax after tit-for-tat air strikes following a suicide attack on Indian paramilitary troopers in February. India recently proposed to blacklist Masood Azhar, the leader of Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, as a global terrorist at the UN Security Council. This shows that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) intend to use the simmering dispute with Pakistan as one of its main election planks to shore up Modi's popularity and lure voters.

On terrorism India is inconsistent with China
Money Control, March 15

By Jabin T Jacob, Associate Professor, Department of International Relations and Governance Studies, Shiv Nadar University, and Adjunct Research Fellow, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi

India failed yet again to have Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Masood Azhar sanctioned because of a ‘technical hold’ by China at the UN Security Council’s 1267 Committee. Minister of State for External Affairs Gen (retd) VK Singh chose the occasion to send out a tweet asking if China’s stance was ‘a reflection of the soft position of some leaders & political parties’ implying, of course, Indian opposition leaders and parties.

Depth of China’s ties with Pakistan costs India
Asia Times, March 15

By Avinash Godbole, Assistant Professor, O P Jindal Global University

As expected, China has again gone ahead and vetoed a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution listing Masood Azhar under the UN sanctions regime. This veto is the fourth such “technical hold” on the part of China in the recent past. China’s actions indicate that terrorism is India’s own national problem and the gap between China’s policy on “global” terrorism and its South Asia strategy continues

India and China are leading the way towards a sustainable growth model
The Hindu, March 13

By Naina Lal Kidwai, Global Commissioner for the Economy and Climate, and chair, Sustainability Council, FICCI

As the two largest emerging economies, China and India are already at the forefront of economic growth and development. Now, they are becoming global leaders by taking ambitious steps to combat climate change. And by incorporating bold climate action into their economic strategies, they are demonstrating new approaches to growth in the global South.

Books and Journals

Asia Europe Journal

India, Pakistan, and the Kashmir dispute: unpacking the dynamics of a South Asian frozen conflict
Asia Europe Journal 17, no.1, 2019: 129-143

By Sumit Ganguly, Michal Smetana, Sannia Abdullah, & Ales Karmazin.

The Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan remains at the core of one of the most intractable conflicts in modern history. This article provides a plausibility probe into the dynamics of this South Asian rivalry that is conceptually based on the dynamic understanding of “frozen conflicts” introduced in this special issue of Asia Europe Journal. We lay out the key features of the conflict vis-à-vis the redefined notion of frozen conflicts, situating the rivalry in the broader category of unresolved protracted conflicts with a looming threat of violence renewal. In turn, we examine the three transformational dynamics as they operate in this particular case: peaceful thawing, violent thawing, and conflict withering. We conclude that despite the ongoing developments within the conflict dynamics, the possibility of conflict transformation through any of the suggested pathways remains unlikely in the near future.


Compiled and sent to you by Centre on Asia and Globalisation and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

Have any feedback or comment? Email us decb64_Y2FnQG51cy5lZHUuc2c=_decb64