Connectivity initiatives that straddle national boundaries must be pursued in a manner that respect sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said on Thursday, asserting that such projects must promote trade and not tension.
His comments assume significance with India boycotting China’s Belt and Road Initiative on the grounds of territorial sovereignty as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Gokhale, in his address at the Regional Connectivity Conference here, said, “Connectivity efforts in the region must be based on principles of economic viability and financial responsibility.” They should promote economic activity and not place nations under irredeemable debt burden, he said.
Gokhale also said that “physical hardware of connectivity” across nations can only sustain itself in a common and universally applicable rules-based world order. “Such an order must uphold sovereignty, territorial integrity and equality of all nations. All nations must respect their international commitments. This is the foremost requirement, and therefore a pressing need in our part of the world (Indian Ocean) and any such arrangement must naturally accord due primacy to the states located in the geography of the Indian Ocean,” he said.
He asserted that connectivity can be meaningful only when everyone has equal access under international law to the use of global commons that would require freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law. He cautioned that “connectivity initiatives that straddle national boundaries must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations. They should promote trade, not tension.”
In his address, Gokhale said that India’s connectivity to its west remains “blighted”, and it has sought to bypass an “unwilling regime” in Pakistan by establishing in June last year an air freight corridor between India and Afghanistan, which it plans to expand to more cities.