In a determined bid to woo SAARC countries as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China on Thursday opened a mega exhibition to promote trade and economic links with India and other South Asian countries.

Afghanistan is the ‘Theme Country’ for the week-long 5th ‘China-South Asia Exposition’ being held in southwest China’s Yunnan Province. In all, more than 3,800 companies from SAARC and other countries are participating in the expo.

India’s participation at the exhibition has been low-key, apparently because of New Delhi’s reservations about the BRI project, the signature initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping. New Delhi has opposed the BRI on the ground that its flagship project, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) runs through the Indian territory under the illegal control of Pakistan.

However, Sailas Thangal, Consul General of India in Guangzhou, said India has always been participating in a big way in the exhibition and this time too some 250 Indian companies were attending it. “This is the biggest-ever Indian participation in this exhibition in China. These companies have come here under the auspices of the Federation of Indian Exports Organisation (FIEO) and the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC),’’ he said.

Earlier, inaugurating the exhibition, Chinese Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua said his country desired to enhance trade relations with all countries in South Asia for the common benefit of the people of the region. He said the BRI was aimed at giving an impetus to economic development of different continents, including Asia.

The Chinese leader said China and South Asian countries must cooperate at WTO and other multilateral forums to protect the interests of developing countries.

Afghanistan’s Second Deputy Chief Executive Officer Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, speaking at the inaugural ceremony, hailed the BRI, saying it would certainly help countries in South Asia to achieve speedy economic development. He said Afghanistan faced immense threats from terrorism and it was the duty of all countries in the region to take steps to root out the menace.

A series of events are being held simultaneously with the expo, including the 25th China Kunming Import and Export Commodities Fair and the 13th China-South Asia Business Forum.

The exhibition is being held in Yunnan As China is projecting this border province as a gateway to South Asia and South-east Asia.

According to Thangal, the Indian diplomat, economic cooperation between India and China was a ‘win-win’ situation for both countries. He said Yunnan could be a ‘very good’ example for North-eastern Indian states to follow for economic progress, especially agriculture-based industry.

He also stated that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was scheduled to visit China soon.