A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “only by respecting the sovereignty of countries involved, can regional connectivity corridors fulfil their promise and avoid differences and discord”, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, in one of the sharpest comments by the government on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), said Beijing had not been sensitive about India’s sovereignty and did not consult New Delhi on its $54-billion project with Islamabad.
Responding to questions at the second edition of the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi Wednesday, Jaishankar 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. The 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.”
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“So the fact that such a project has been initiated without consultation with India, I would imagine, people will understand what the Indian reaction to that would be. So I think in approaching the CPEC, there needs to be some reflection on how a country like India would see that is part of India, would feel… I am sorry to say that we have not seen signs of that so far,” he said.
While India has raised the issue of CPEC at various levels, including at the highest level with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the BRICS summit in Goa last October, Jaishankar’s comments were the most critical so far.
In his prepared remarks, however, Jaishankar was much more measured. “With China, the overall broadening of ties, especially in business and people-to-people contacts, has been overshadowed by differences on certain political issues. But it is important for the two countries not to lose sight of the strategic nature of their engagement, or falter in their conviction that their rise can be mutually supportive. We will continue to invest more energy into this account in 2017.”
“What we are trying to do is to convince China that our rise is not harmful to China’s rise just as China’s rise need not be to India’s rise,” the Foreign Secretary told the gathering.
He was critical of Pakistan and said SAARC had been made ineffective due to the “insecurity of one member” — a reference to the cancellation of the SAARC summit in Islamabad last year as other member countries, led by India and Afghanistan, boycotted it.
He said the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) are other groupings which can be utilised for sub-regional cooperation.
“Regional groupings are today one of the building blocks of the global order. Their driving force and commonality are perhaps the most obvious of all. India is a founder member of SAARC, an organisation that has been made ineffective due to the insecurity of one member. We hope to partially remedy this through the BBIN sub-regional grouping. It is also our expectation that the current level of enthusiasm among members of BIMSTEC can be channelled towards more far-reaching initiatives,” he said.
Jaishankar said “terrorism remains the most pervasive and serious challenge to international security. Developing a serious global response is of the highest priority, yet hard to do.”
On his own engagement with the incoming US administration, he said, “Our ties with the United States have been steadily growing and today cover vast areas of collaboration. We established early contact with the Trump transition team and see a strong convergence of interests and concerns. With Russia, India’s relationship has actually grown very substantially in the last two years, as has the bonding between our leaders. An improvement in US-Russia ties is, therefore, not against Indian interests.”
On the need to reform the United Nations, Jaishankar said: “The absurdity of the main multilateral decision-making body being more than 70 years old — and due for retirement anywhere in the world — is obvious to all except those with vested interest.”
“There can be no getting away from the myriad of global challenges that will eventually require a credible multilateral response. The pressures to reform the UN will only grow with each passing day,” he said.