New Delhi: Remarks by Chinese ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui, stating that China could rename the China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor (CPEC) as Beijing seeks to secure a high-level Indian participation for Beijing’s One Belt One Road conference, seem to have run into controversy with the Chinese embassy in New Delhi removing the line from the speech published online.
A report in the Pakistani news website The News on Tuesday noted that the line had been “expunged from the official transcript of speech the envoy".
This was “possibly due to concerns raised by Pakistan," The Newsreport said.
Currently posted in New Delhi, Luo, also a former Chinese ambassador to Pakistan, had made the comments while speaking at the United Services Institute, a military think-tank in New Delhi on Friday. The speech was put up on the embassy website on Monday and widely reported in the Indian press.
The CPEC is one of many strands that make up Beijing’s ambitious infrastructure initiative—the One Belt One Road (OBOR) project unveiled by 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. 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 has been invited to the meet on OBOR hosted by Beijing on 14-15 May, is yet to confirm its participation. New Delhi has its reservations about the project, given that CPEC cuts through Gilgit and Baltistan areas of Kashmir which India claims are illegally held by Pakistan.
In the original text of speech available on Monday—and reported by Mint—Luo had noted that while India did not have many reservations about the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar strand of the OBOR, “India still has reservations over the OBOR," saying that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through the Pakistan-occupied 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’s words came after 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."
Analysts in India were, however, not convinced by Luo’s offer or his words.
“The ambassador was just presenting his country’s case in a positive light. Without conceding anything, he has managed to package things in a positive light," said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
“The ambassador’s aim was to get a high-level participation from India if possible for the OBOR conference, which is why he is making this effort. But since there has been no give on any of the contentious issues in the India-China relationship, why should India buy the Chinese argument?" he asked.