While New Delhi chose to skip the inaugural Belt and Road Forum (BRF) in Beijing citing sovereignty concerns over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), six of India’s neighbours signed at least 20 agreements with China — seeking aid in advancing infrastructure, power, banking and finance — during the two-day event.
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During the forum, China dubbed CPEC a flagship One Belt One Road (OBOR) project, and 10 more agreements connected to the contentious corridor that runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) were formalised. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressed the opening ceremony of the BRF and led a delegation including four chief ministers and several federal ministers.
But Pakistan was not alone in cooperating with China on OBOR, a pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Afghanistan all signed MoUs, cooperation agreements and planning documents connected to OBOR.
India has raised the CPEC issue at various levels, including with President Xi at the BRICS summit in Goa last October. In January, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar had said, “China is a country which is very sensitive on matters concerning its sovereignty… so we would expect that they would have some understanding of other people’s sensitivity about their sovereignty. CPEC passes through a piece of land which we call Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which is a territory that belongs to India and is illegally occupied by Pakistan.”
Wang Yiwei, Professor at the School of International Studies at Renmin University, said China’s neighbours would benefit immensely from the OBOR initiative. “The CPEC project is expected to solve Pakistan’s energy independence and infrastructure issues through special economic zones and the Gwadar Port. I believe its economy will take off after the second stage of development that begins in 2020. By 2030, Pakistan’s economy will be the new emerging power in the world,” he said.
Earlier this week, another Chinese scholar, Wang Dehua, Director, Institute for South and Central Asia Studies in Shanghai, had said, “It is natural that India’s neighbours want to be a part of the Belt and Road Initiative. It is a great opportunity for them. They want China’s technological knowledge and, of course, they want the money.” He had added that India’s neighbours may even work on convincing India, whose influence cannot be denied in South Asia, to join the OBOR initiative.
Wang Yiwei believes India is becoming more flexible about the initiative. “I believe India has shown positive signs over a China-Nepal-India economic corridor… Even the US and Japan have sent representatives,” he said.