India is likely to boycott China’s Belt and Road Forum (BRF) beginning in Beijing on Sunday in view of sovereignty concerns related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of the initiative that is expected to figure prominently in the two-day meet.
While there is no official word with the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi declining to comment, informed sources told PTI that India may not take part in BRF. This is contrary to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s announcement last month that India will have a representative at the meet, a prestigious initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The likely boycott will leave India in a tight spot as China in the last few days has managed to rope in even the US, which on Friday agreed to send a top official after Washington clinched a lucrative trade deal.
“It is a tricky situation for India because it cannot get any diplomatic dividend by attending it. On the contrary, it may be embarrassing for the Indian delegation to sit through the programme when CPEC is highlighted and may have to walk out,” an Indian scholar attending the BRF meeting told PTI on the condition of anonymity.
Indian officials maintain that New Delhi has objections related only to the CPEC traversing through Gilgit and Baltistan of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). India treats the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir as its integral part.
Staying away from the meet may “isolate” India in the region as all countries in South Asia—barring Bhutan which doesn’t have diplomatic relations with China—were participating, a top Chinese official in New Delhi had said last week. He had warned that New Delhi’s absence “will not be constructive” for bilateral ties.
Playing down India’s absence at the meeting, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang had told the media yesterday that Indian scholars would be attending the meeting.
Japan, at the receiving end of strong criticism from China in the last few years particularly over the disputed islands in the East China Sea, has also agreed to send a high level political delegation that includes a vice minister.
The May 14-15 summit, which is expected to strengthen Xi’s power base as he gets set to begin his second five-year tenure later this year, will be attended by 29 heads of state and government, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A number of other countries, including South Korea, France, Germany and UK, have deputed either ministerial or official delegations.
While this is the outcome of hectic diplomatic lobbying by China, unlike India, none of the other countries have sovereignty related issues with the One Belt and One Road initiative.
Considering CPEC’s importance in the plan—it is the only project at present with prospects of delivering early results—Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to take centrestage to highlight its significance as a ‘game changer’ for his country.
He is leading perhaps the largest delegation—four chief ministers and five federal ministers.
Besides Sharif, the only head of government to be represented at the summit will be Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe who will be in Beijing immediately after hosting his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at home.
From Nepal, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Krishna Bahadur Mahara will lead the delegation.
Bangladesh and the Maldives will also have official representations.India’s stand on the meet comes after a year of bilateral discord over China’s stubborn opposition to its entry into the NSG and a UN ban against Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammad leader Masood Azhar.
China, too, protested India’s decision to permit the Dalai Lama last month to visit Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing claims as South Tibet.
In the last few days, China has tried to assuage India’s feelings by asserting that the commercial CPEC will not have any impact on its stand that the Kashmir issue should be settled by India and Pakistan through dialogue.
India’s worries over the 3,000 km long CPEC project connecting Pakistan’s deep-water port Gwadar and China’s Xinjiang stem from the fact that Gwadar, which was taken over by the Chinese, will become a future naval base.
The Gwadar port across the waters from Mumbai’s port housing the Indian Navy’s western naval command provides a berth for China in the Arabian Sea and to the Indian Ocean.
China has already announced plans to station its marines there as well in Djibouti in Horn of Africa in Indian Ocean.