Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday held the first joint virtual conference with his counterparts from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal during which he proposed a four-point plan to contain the novel Coronavirus pandemic, boost economic recovery and resumption of the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) infrastructure projects.
According to a Chinese Foreign Ministry press release, Afghanistan’s acting Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar and Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali attended the virtual meeting.
However, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi did not participate in the meeting. Islamabad was represented by Economic Affairs Minister Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, a PTI report said.
In a first meeting involving the four countries, the Chinese Foreign Minister proposed the four-point action plan including consolidating the consensus on unity and fight against the pandemic, avoiding politicisation and stigmatisation of the coronavirus and firmly support the World Health Organization (WHO) in playing its due role to jointly building global health community.
The Trump administration had earlier this month formally notified the United Nations of its decision to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization (WHO), over its “mishandling” of Coronavirus pandemic and the alleged “biasness” toward China.
Trump and his administration have repeatedly assailed the WHO for months and threatened to cut ties with the organization.
Late May, US President Donald Trump announced that the country will terminate its relationship with the World Health Organization, a move he has threatened throughout the coronavirus pandemic and one that earned quick criticism from both sides of the aisle.
On April 14, Trump announced cutting off funding of up to USD 500 million annually to the WHO, accusing the UN body of “severely mismanaging and covering up” the spread of the deadly coronavirus when it first emerged in China.
Trump administration accused the Geneva-based agency of propagating “false information” and charged that its reliance on Chinese data had “likely caused a 20-fold increase in cases worldwide.”
He has also accused the WHO of taking side with China in the coronavirus outbreak that has brought the world’s largest US economy, to a standstill.
The American president also claimed that the WHO failed to investigate credible reports from sources in Wuhan that conflicted directly with the Chinese government’s official accounts.
On May 18, Donald Trump threatened to permanently freeze US funding to the WHO unless “substantive improvements” were made within 30 days.
In the wake of these developments, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday said that all the four countries should carry out regional cooperation on joint prevention and control of the pandemic drawing the experience of China and Pakistan, according to the press release.
He said when the Chinese vaccine is developed, China will improve the accessibility of vaccines to the three countries and help them strengthen their public health systems.
Significantly, he also proposed post-pandemic, the four countries should resolutely support the joint development of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by promoting the resumption of work and production of key cooperation projects, maintain the stability of industrial and supply chains, and create new economic growth points in the digital field.
“We will actively promote the building of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Trans-Himalayan Connectivity network (THCN), support the extension of the corridor to Afghanistan, and further unleash the dividends of regional connectivity,” Wang said.
The BRI is a multi-billion-dollar initiative launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping when he came to power in 2013. It aims to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes.
While USD 60 billion CPEC is the flagship project of the BRI, over which India has protested to China as it is being laid through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), the THCN aims to connect Nepal and China through Tibet.
“We should give play to our geographical advantages, strengthen exchanges and connectivity between the four countries and central Asian countries, and safeguard regional peace and stability,” Wang said.
His remarks assume significance as it comes amid the border tensions between India and China. Pakistan and Nepal are also actively involved in building major infrastructure projects under the CPEC and the THCN, causing much concern in New Delhi.
The ministers of Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan”actively supported” the four-point cooperation initiative proposed by Wang and thanked China for providing medical material assistance and food support, and shared experience in epidemic prevention and control, the statement said.
All parties supported the maintenance of multilateralism, strengthen the role of the WHO, backed the realisation of a ceasefire in Afghanistan during the epidemic, and the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan, it added.
Pakistan’s representative stressed that the participating counties should develop political consensus against COVID-19 and declare a united front to combat it.
He said that Coronavirus had inflicted a punitive human and economic cost globally and disrupted the social and political architecture of the world.
“Pakistan was ready to both enhance cooperation in combating COVID-19 and in post-pandemic economic recovery with the participating countries,” the minister said.
The country’s Economic Affairs Minister Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar said that the CPEC could play an important role in boosting regional growth and recovery in the post-COVID-19 period.
(With PTI inputs)