By Amit Agnihotri
New Delhi: Locked in a bitter border dispute with India along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, China has reached out to Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan in a bid to woo them to its side in this conflict with India that is now turning into a global war of nerves.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held the first joint virtual conference with his counterparts from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal on the pretext of discussing ways to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and to work out economic recovery plans.
However, Wang used the occasion to push China’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative, which has faced Indian opposition over its violations of India’s sovereignty in territories occupied by Pakistan and China.
“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.
Pakistan is a known protégé of China and is hosting BRI projects in the Indian territories illegally occupied by it. These projects are part of the CPEC. China has also been trying to increase its influence in Nepal and Bangladesh and has recently done a 25-year trade deal with Iran to get a footprint in West Asia.
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping had launched the multi-billion-dollar BRI, declaring lofty aims to link South East Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes, but in effect has been debt traps for the host nations of the infrastructure projects.
India has registered its protest with China, saying the CPEC worth $60 billion passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which are an integral part of India. The THCN aims to connect Nepal and China through Tibet, which was forcibly annexed by the Communist Party of China and was never a part of 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.
Recently, India strongly condemned Pakistan’s attempts to carry out China-backed 4500 MW Diamer–Bhasha dam in PoK and Gilgit–Baltistan, whose legal status has been questioned by India.
“The entire Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have been ours and will be an integral and inalienable part of India. We have protested strongly against construction of this dam to the Pakistan government. This dam will lead to submergence of a large part of land in Indian UTs of J&K and Ladakh,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava had said then
“We condemn the continuous attempts by Pakistan to bring about material changes in Indian territories under its illegal occupation. We have also consistently conveyed our protest and shared our concern with both China and Pakistan on all such projects in Indian territories under Pakistan illegal occupation where it has no locus standi.”
The multi-billion Diamer-Bhasha project is being executed by a Chinese state-owned firm China Power and a commercial arm of the Pakistan Army, Frontier Works Organisation. China has been pushing for the dam project despite knowing India’s strong and age-old claims over the PoK areas.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi did not participate in the virtual meet yesterday and had nominated Minister for Economic Affairs Khusro Bakhtiar, who said the CPEC could play an important role in boosting regional growth and recovery post COVID-19 pandemic. Afghanistan’s acting Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar and Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali attended the virtual meeting.
Wang also tried to push China’s superpower ambitions, as he told Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan that cooperating with the Asian dragony would ensure regional peace and stability, a role which India is better suited to play.
“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,” Yi said.
The Chinese foreign minister also talked about bringing peace in troubled Afghanistan, where India is the main development partner and has key strategic stakes.
The virtual meeting sponsored by China has come at a time when the Asian giant is not honouring a mutually agreed disengagement along the LAC in eastern Ladakh.
The Chinese stubbornness has resulted in the two armies facing each other in confrontation along the LAC and the bilateral relationship registering a downward slide. China also seems to be ignoring India’s repeated reminders that peace and tranquillity along the border and respect for the LAC is the basis of the bilateral relations.
China, which has been criticised by the western powers, including the US, for spreading the Coronavirus the worldover and hiding information about it in collusion with the World Health Organisation (WHO), urged Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan to avoid “politicisation and stigmatisation” of COVID-19 and asked them to support the world health body.
China further tried to woo Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan by saying they would get access to a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it was developed.