New Delhi/Beijing: India is boycotting China’s Belt and Road Forum (BRF) beginning in Beijing on Sunday, a clear indication of that came from an official statement issued late on Saturday which said India cannot accept a project that ignores its core concern on sovereignty and territorial integrity.
India has strong reservation over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of China’s prestigious ‘Belt and the Road Initiative’ (BRI) and is expected to figure prominently in the two-day meet. The CPEC passes through Gilgit and Baltistan of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). India treats the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir as its integral part, including the PoK.
In a strongly-worded statement issued hours before the opening of the forum in the Chinese capital, India said the connectivity initiative must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity. “Guided by our principled position in the matter, we have been urging China to engage in a meaningful dialogue on its connectivity initiative, ‘One Belt, One Road’ which was later renamed as ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. We are awaiting a positive response from the Chinese side," external affairs ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said in a statement.
“Regarding the so-called ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’, which is being projected as the flagship project of the BRI/OBOR, the international community is well aware of India’s position. No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said.
Noting that India has received a formal invitation to participate in the six separate forums that China is organising as part of the BRF, he said India is of firm belief that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognised international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality.
“Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities; balanced ecological and environmental protection and preservation standards; transparent assessment of project costs; and skill and technology transfer to help long-term running and maintenance of the assets created by local communities," Baglay said.
Asserting that India shares international community’s desire for enhancing physical connectivity, the ministry said it believes that it should bring greater economic benefits to all in an equitable and balanced manner. The spokesperson also noted that India was working with many countries and international institutions in support of physical and digital connectivity in its immediate and near neighbourhood.
He also said that expansion and strengthening of connectivity is an integral part of India’s economic and diplomatic initiatives and observed that under the ‘Act East’ policy, it was pursuing the Trilateral Highway project; under its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. “We are developing multi-modal linkages with Myanmar and Bangladesh; under our ‘Go West’ strategy, we are engaged with Iran on Chabahar Port and with Iran and other partners in Central Asia on International North South Transport Corridor.
“Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) initiative is aimed at enhancing logistics efficiencies in South Asian region. We are also actively considering acceding to TIR Convention," Baglay said.
The remarks assume significance given that China is trying to project that by skipping the BRF, India may be “isolated" in the region as all countries in South Asia—barring Bhutan which doesn’t have diplomatic relations with China—were participating.
India also asserted that connectivity initiatives should follow principles of balanced ecological and environmental protection and preservation standards; transparent assessment of project costs; and skill and technology transfer to help long-term running and maintenance of the assets created by local communities. India’s stand on the meet comes after a year of bilateral discord over China’s stubborn opposition to its entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and a UN ban against Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammad leader Masood Azhar.
China, too, protested India’s decision to permit the Dalai Lama last month to visit Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing claims as South Tibet. In the last few days, China has tried to assuage India’s feelings by asserting that the commercial CPEC will not have any impact on its stand that the Kashmir issue should be settled by India and Pakistan through dialogue.
India’s worries over the 3,000-km long CPEC project connecting Pakistan’s deep-water port Gwadar and China’s Xinjiang stem from the fact that Gwadar, which was taken over by the Chinese, will become a future naval base. The Gwadar port across the waters from Mumbai’s port housing the Indian Navy’s western naval command provides a berth for China in the Arabian Sea and to the Indian Ocean. PTI