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India should be upfront in opposition to China-Pakistan economic corridor

Himalayan Paths

New Delhi, April 21 (IANS) India should be “upfront” about voicing its concern and make known its opposition over a proposed China-Pakistan proposed mega corridor project that is expected to pass through Pakistan-administered Kashmir, says a former top diplomat and negotiator.

“What China is doing in PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) is a matter of great concern, and we should make the concern known. There is no reason why we should not be upfront about voicing opposition to what is being done,” said former Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran, addressing a talk here on Monday evening.

According to Saran, former chairperson of the National Security Advisory Board and who has been involved in border negotiations with China, the Chinese agreement with Pakistan says that the “final disposal of the agreement will be when the Kashmir issue is resolved between India and Pakistan”.

“To say that India by raising the issue is creating an obstacle in relations is not true…I don’t think India should go about giving up claims with China… That is not the right way of dealing with the relationship,” Saran said at a talk on “Overcoming History: Sino-India Relations” at the India Habitat Centre.

During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Islamabad, both countries agreed on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to link China’s underdeveloped far-western region to Pakistan’s Gwadar deep-sea port on the Arabian Sea via what is called PoK. The economic corridor is proposed to have a massive complex network of roads, railways, business zones, energy schemes and pipelines.

Saran said that during the first half of the 1980s, India and China had discussed ways to settle the border issue, based on what was known as a “LAC plus” solution, which would entail territorial adjustments that would be politically acceptable, but the Chinese “walked back”. In 2005, the talks had seen some progress on the sticking points of “settled population” and the “highest watershed” on the Line of Actual Control, but the Chinese side again “started walking back”, he said at the talk organized by think tank Society for Policy Studies (SPS).

Saran also said that both sides should look at areas beyond the ticklish border issue to build convergences, like on climate change, and on certain issues on the G20 platform that both could work together on.

“We have to deal with the relationship in the broader context, and not merely the border issue,” said Saran, who is now a Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research.

According to him, India and China should hold dialogue on naval and maritime issues as that could emerge as a new point of mistrust and conflict. He said both sides had agreed to hold a dialogue on maritime issues, but it did not happen. “It is essential to hold a dialogue on the issue so that we don’t have a new area of mistrust,” he said.

Chinese submarines have been making port calls at Sri Lanka and other Indian Ocean rim countries, triggering concern in India.

To the Chinese initiative of “One Belt one Road” – an economic connectivity corridor through Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa – Saran said that India should not have a “knee jerk reaction” to it but try and see if there are ways that India could use the corridor for its own purpose, while also dealing with the negative aspects of the corridor project.

“Merely saying ‘no’ is not something that will get us far,” said the expert, adding that India has “not been very successful” in pushing forward with its own initiatives like the Mekong Ganga cooperation or the Indian Ocean Rim Association.

To the Narendra Modi government’s foreign policy proposal of “Project Mausam”, a transnational initiative meant to revive its ancient maritime routes and cultural linkages with countries in the region, Saran termed it “a kind of tokenism” that makes him “very uncomfortable”.

“We should be very clear in what we want to do. Merely saying we don’t like it (Chinese Silk Route proposal), and come up with another slogan is not the way to deal with the challenge. We need to be far more serious and invest far more in the relationship,” he said.

Modi is set to visit China in May, when the border issue would likely be top the agenda besides economic and investment issues.

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