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India may snub China, skip Beijing’s OBOR conference

LiveMint logoLiveMint 10-05-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: India seems likely to snub China by brushing off an invite for the Beijing-hosted 14-15 May international conference on its One Belt One Road (OBOR) infrastructure initiative but seems ready to pull out all stops to make the Buddhist international Vesak Day festivities in neighbouring Sri Lanka a success. Modi will leave for the 11-12 May festivities in Colombo on Thursday, India’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday even as foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay said the matter of the Chinese invitation for India to attend the OBOR conference was under “consideration” and “no decision has been taken” on it.

Vesak Day celebrations commemorate Lord Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing away.

Outlining Modi’s programme in Sri Lanka, Sanjay Panda, joint secretary in charge of Sri Lanka, said Modi would be visiting Colombo for the Vesak Day celebrations as well as Kandy and Dickoya in the Central Province. In Kandy, Modi will visit the Temple of the Tooth relic which houses Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic—a tooth of Buddha.

“Prime Minister’s visit to Sri Lanka for the Vesak Day celebrations assumes importance because this is a reflection of our shared Buddhist heritage which spans centuries. And this also the importance that we attach to this (with Sri Lanka) relationship. We are keen that the International Vesak Day that Sri Lanka is hosting for the first time is a grand success,” Panda said.

ALSO READ : China erases India envoy’s ‘renaming CPEC’ remark from embassy website

In Dickoya, Modi will be handing over to Sri Lankan authorities a multispeciality 150-bed hospital built with Indian assistance, Panda said. “Our relations in recent years has seen renewed momentum. In fact, I would describe it as a qualitative transformation in our ties with Sri Lanka,” Panda said.

Coincidentally, Sri Lanka is one of the countries that China is keen to rope in for its OBOR project unveiled by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.

It aims to put billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids across Asia, Africa and Europe. OBOR 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 has been invited to the OBOR meet, has its reservations about the project, given that a strand of it i.e. the China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor (CPEC) cuts through Gilgit and Baltistan areas of Kashmir which India claims are illegally held by Pakistan.

ALSO READ : Building economic links part of CPEC aim: China

Interestingly, Chinese ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui had offered to rename the CPEC to allay Indian concerns about the project but withdrew his remarks soon after Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay said India had not received any proposal from China on renaming the CPEC.

“The prime minister’s visit to Sri Lanka should be seen as India looking at China as major country with Buddhist faith and as a country of strategic significance to India,” said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh. On the other hand, OBOR should be seen in the context of “Chinese ambitions to challenge American hegemony,” Mansingh said. “India has said the CPEC is a challenge to India’s sovereignty as it gives legitimacy to Pakistani claims of being a sovereign power (in Gilgit and Baltistan). My hunch is that India will not be represented at the OBOR conference,” he said.

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