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Building economic links part of CPEC aim: China

LiveMint logoLiveMint 08-05-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: Days ahead of China hosting an international summit on its One Belt One Road (OBOR) project, Beijing’s ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui said that one strand of the giant infrastructure initiative—the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)—is aimed at promoting economic cooperation and connectivity and not linked to sovereignty issues.

In a speech to an Indian defence think tank, Luo said that China was even willing to rename the project to assuage any Indian misgivings on the matter. The text of the speech, delivered on Friday, was made public on Monday.

Beijing, he said, had no intentions of getting involved in territorial disputes between India and Pakistan.

China supports a “settlement through bilateral negotiation in line with the Shimla Agreement. This is an example of China taking care of India’s concern,” he said.

China was willing to mediate between India and Pakistan “but the precondition is that both India and Pakistan accept it. We do this only out of good will,” the ambassador said.

The comments come as Beijing prepares to host the leaders of some 30 countries and representatives of some 100 other countries as well as institutions on 14-15 May.

OBOR is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s landmark plan to put billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids across Asia, Africa and Europe. It is expected to burnish Beijing’s free trade credentials and offer Xi a chance to elaborate China’s global leadership ambitions as the US looks to promote its own “America First” policy.

India, which is invited to the Beijing meet, is yet to confirm its participation. New Delhi has its reservations about the project given that the CPEC cuts through Gilgit and Baltistan areas of Kashmir which India says is illegally held by Pakistan.

Over the weekend, finance and defence minister Arun Jaitley, speaking in Yokohama at a discussion on Asia’s economic outlook organized by the Asian Development Bank, said that though India supports the idea of regional connectivity, “I have no hesitation in saying we have some serious reservations about it (OBOR), because of sovereignty issues.”

Luo said: “The OBOR and regional connectivity could provide China and India with fresh opportunities and highlights for the bilateral cooperation. The OBOR is a major public product China has offered to the world. It is a strategic initiative aimed at promoting globalization and economic integration.”

“As close neighbours, China and India could be natural partners in connectivity and the OBOR,” he added.

He noted that China began its market reforms more than a decade before India and that compared to China, India has a few disadvantages despite having a large English-speaking population, a sound legal system, as well as its leading role in Information Technology and pharmaceuticals. This was because, “globally, the current trend of anti-globalization and anti-free trade is not in line with India’s open-up efforts,” Luo said.

“In this context ...China’s OBOR focuses on improving regional connectivity and economic cooperation, especially infrastructure building. It can meet the need of the countries along the OBOR and provide India and other regional countries with important opportunities,” he said.

While India does not have many reservations about the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar strand of the OBOR, Luo said, “India still has reservations over the OBOR, saying that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through the Pakistan-Controlled-Kashmir, raising sovereignty concerns.”

“Even we can think about renaming the CPEC,” he said, adding: “China and India have had successful experience of de-linking sovereignty disputes with bilateral relations before. In history, we have had close cooperation along the ancient Silk Road. Why shouldn’t we support this kind of cooperation today?”

Luo also dismissed as untrue criticism that China puts its “all weather ally” Pakistan first while handling relations with South Asia countries. “Simply put, we always put China first and we deal with problems based on their own merits,” he said.

China experts were unimpressed.

According to Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, “The Chinese ambassador’s speech has not addressed any of the problem areas between India and China”—these include the unsettled boundary issue and the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s presence in India.

“The only agenda that the Ambassador had seemed to be to package things in a positive way—without conceding anything,” Kondapalli said. “Without any concession to India, why should New Delhi buy the Chinese argument?” he added.

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