China on Friday said that India’s absence at the second Belt and Road forum next week will not affect their engagement and both the countries are preparing for a Wuhan-like summit between their leaders this year.
Addressing a press conference ahead of the event to be held from April 25 to 27, China’s top diplomat and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the differences between New Delhi and Beijing should not become disputes.
India for a second time will skip China’s event of the year in protest against the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) — the artery of the Belt and Road project – that cuts through Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.
China’s Belt and Road is a trillion dollar project which aims to connect Asia, Africa and Europe through a network of roads, highways, ports and sea lanes.
The CPEC, the crown jewel of the project, has emerged as one of pesky issues between India and China.
In 2017, India had boycotted the launch of the Belt and Road forum in Beijing in protest against the CPEC. New Delhi had then said that “no country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
This year too, New Delhi will skip China’s biggest event which will be attended by leaders or heads of 37 countries, including Pakistan and Nepal, and representatives from over 150 nations.
Wang sought to allay India’s concerns over the CPEC, saying the project in no way ignores its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“It is natural for us to have a difference. This is only natural. I remember Prime Minster Narendra Modi has mentioned many times that we should not escalate our differences into dispute. The Indian side wants to put our differences at a proper level in order not to interfere in the proper development of our relations.
“One of our fundamental differences is how to look at the Belt and Road initiative. The Indian side has their concerns,” Wang said, replying to a question whether India’s absence at the event will have a negative impact on bilateral ties after the ice-breaking Wuhan meet between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping last year.
“We understand that and that’s why we stated clearly on various occasions that the Belt and Road initiative including the CPEC is only an economic initiative.
“They do not target any third country and they have nothing to with sovereign and territorial dispute left over from history between the two countries. Of course, India has its basic position on these disputes. Our cooperation will not undermine any party’s position on those issues,” he added.
Wang also said that India and China were preparing for the next meet between their leaders this year.
“The two leaders (Modi and Xi) had a very successful meeting in Wuhan. Particularly, they established mutual trust between the leadership and jointly planned for the future of improvement and the strengthening of the China-India relationship.
“After the Wuhan summit we see the progress in all areas of cooperation between the two countries,” Wang added.
He stressed that India-China ties had a “bright prospect”, which will be reflected in the “next summit between our leaders”.
“Now we are trying to achieve common prosperity through the cooperation under the BRI. Those issues left over from history must be separated from our efforts in this area,” Wang said.
“I think such cooperation will not undermine the basic position on sovereignty and territorial integrity and at the same provide you more opportunity of development and help India in modernisation endeavour. I believe this is a good option and good choice for India.”