In what is seen as a clear attempt by Beijing to persuade New Delhi to give up its opposition to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), China has proposed to rename the ambitious project while making it clear that it has no intention to get involved in the sovereignty and territorial disputes between India and Pakistan.
“China supports the solution of the disputes (between India and Pakistan) through bilateral negotiations between the two countries. The CPEC is for promoting economic cooperation and connectivity. It has no connections to or impact on sovereignty issues. Even we can think about renaming the CPEC,’’ Chinese Ambassador Luo Zhaohui said in an address at the United Service Institution of India, a defence think-tank.
The statement comes days ahead of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) Summit, to be hosted by China on May 14-15 as part of a long-term initiative to improve connectivity and enhance trade routes from Southeast Asia to Europe.
The CPEC, which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), is part of the OBOR initiative. India has already conveyed to China its objection over the project on the ground that it runs through sovereign Indian territory. Hence, it has also not so far taken a decision on whether to participate in the OBOR Summit even though Beijing is keen to ensure New Delhi’s presence.
The Chinese envoy’s statement to rename the CPEC is being seen as a clever move by Beijing to assuage India and ensure its presence at the summit at which Beijing proposes to showcase its economic might.
Luo observed that India and China have had successful experience of delinking 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? China is sincere in its intention to cooperate with India on the OBOR, as it is good for both of us.’’
He also denied that China always put Pakistan first when handling its relations with South Asian countries. “We always put China first and we deal with problems on their own merits.’’ He said China hoped India and Pakistan could live together because this was conducive for the regional stability. “The development of China, India and Pakistan and the stability of the whole region call for a stable and friendly environment. Otherwise, how could we open up and develop?’’ That was one reason why Beijing was willing to mediate when India and Pakistan have problems. But the precondition was both countries should accept it. We do this only out of goodwill.’’ Luo claimed that he had done a lot of mediation between India and Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai terror attack in November 2008 when he was Chinese envoy to Pakistan.
On India’s admission to the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG), he said Beijing did not oppose any country’s membership believing that a standard for admission should be agreed upon first.
The Chinese envoy proposed that the two countries start negotiations on a China-India Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation, restart negotiation on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), strive for an early harvest on the border issue and actively explore the feasibility of aligning China’s OBOR initiative and India’s ‘Act East Policy’.