To link Xinjiang to the port of Gwadar on Arabian Sea

China has indicated it will go ahead with building infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) despite India’s concerns, signing a memorandum of understanding with Pakistan on a transport corridor expected to pass through the disputed region.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who on Thursday wrapped up a two-day visit to Pakistan following his trip to India, called on both countries to “start formulating a long-term plan for the China-Pakistan economic corridor project and gradually push forward its construction”, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Both countries signed an MoU to cooperate on a “long-term” plan on the corridor, among 11 agreements announced during Mr. Li’s visit.

Chinese planners have called for a transport and economic corridor to link China’s far-western Xinjiang region to the port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea, which China helped build and is now managing. 

The corridor, they hope, will speed up development in Xinjiang, which has seen intermittent unrest, and also open up a new route for China’s energy imports from West Asia. The corridor will pass through PoK, which borders Xinjiang and provides the only feasible transport link between China and Pakistan.

While India has made its concerns known over the projects considering the region’s disputed status, China has appeared to push forward. China would “step up” its cooperation with Pakistan by “building the oil pipeline and railroads linking the countries”, Wang Dehua, a South Asia scholar at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told The Global Times, a Communist Party-run tabloid known for its nationalistic views, on Thursday.

Last year, both countries completed a pre-feasibility study for a railway line linking Kashgar, in Xinjiang, to Havelian, running through the Khunjerab Pass and PoK.

Asked about India’s concerns, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said on Thursday, “China’s position on the Kashmir issue is clear and consistent”.

“We hope India and Pakistan can solve the relevant issue through dialogue,” he said.

Chinese officials have made a similar argument to their Indian counterparts when pressed about the projects.

While Mr. Hong did not further elaborate China’s stand, officials had, in the past, described their projects as being carried out “without prejudice” to disputes between India and Pakistan. The projects, they said, were purely commercial, with China not deviating from its stated position of “neutrality” on the issue.

India has rejected that argument, pointing out that China had itself expressed strong opposition to Indian cooperation with Vietnam on exploration projects in the waters of the South China Sea, which are contested by China and a number of other countries.

The Global Times in an editorial on Thursday said India “must accept and adapt” to the friendship between China and Pakistan as Beijing “cannot scale down this relationship” to address its concerns.

“India has long been sensitive to the Sino-Pakistan relationship, even suspecting that China secretly helped Pakistan master nuclear technology. These suspicions are groundless but cannot easily be dispelled,” the editorial said.

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