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At SCO meet, India subtly hits out at China, Pakistan on connectivity projects

India on Thursday subtly hit out at both China and Pakistan at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) by underlining that international connectivity projects should respect the sovereignty of the nations and should not saddle them with debts.

“To improve trade within the region, we need robust connectivity and infrastructure,” External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said as he led the delegation from New Delhi at the meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of Government in Bishkek – the capital of Kyrgyzstan. “Such initiatives should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries,” he said, subtly taking a dig at Beijing and Islamabad, even as Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Pakistani Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani were leading respective governments in the meeting.

The SCO should work together to promote stability and prosperity in the region by strictly adhering to the principles of international law, respecting the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of each other and encouraging economic cooperation, Jaishankar said in Bishkek, as the meeting took place amid the continuing military stand-off between India and China in eastern Ladakh and China’s continuing belligerence in the South China Sea, East China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

Islamabad and Beijing recently inked several deals for new infrastructure projects within the framework of the controversial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Chinese President Xi Jinping had envisaged and articulated the BRI as an ambitious cross-continental connectivity initiative during his visits to Indonesia and Kazakhstan in 2013. Beijing in the past 10 years got 152 nations to sign agreements for the implementation of infrastructure projects, like the construction of highways, railways and power plants, obviously for execution by the state-owned companies of China. Italy – the only West European nation to sign the BRI deal with China – is likely to withdraw itself by March 2024.

Beijing claimed that it launched nearly 3000 projects in Africa, Southeast Asia and South Asia over the past 10 years. New Delhi, however, did not join the BRI.

The CPEC, a key component of the BRI, linked China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region and the port city of Gwadar in southern Pakistan. It covered the areas claimed by India as its own, albeit currently under the illegal occupation of Pakistan.

With the CPEC violating the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of India, New Delhi has been vociferously opposing it.

“The Global South should not be saddled with unviable debt arising from opaque initiatives,” Jaishankar said at the SCO conclave in Bishkek on Thursday.

TheBRItriggered controversies around the world, primarily because several nations, particularly the poorer and smaller ones, landed into debt traps due to the predatory lending practices of China.

“The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) could become prosperity enablers,” the external affairs minister said.

India, Russia and Iran had jointly conceived the INSTC in September 2000 as a multi-modal transportation corridor, which would link the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf with the Caspian Sea through Iran and move onward to North Europe via Russia. Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Oman, Armenia, Syria, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan joined the ambitious project later. Bulgaria joined the bloc as an observer.

India, Saudi Arabia, the US, the UAE, Germany, Italy, France and the European Union signed an MoU for the ambitious India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor or the IMEC on the sideline of the G20 summit in New Delhi on September 10. The proposed IMEC will comprise an eastern corridor connecting India to the Gulf region and a northern corridor connecting the Gulf region to Europe. It will include a railway and ship-rail transit network and road transport routes.

(Published 26 October 2023, 17:49 IST)

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