China on Tuesday flagged the possible inclusion of Afghanistan in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) — a move that is likely to irk India.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the remark of opening the door for Kabul’s entry in an expanded CPEC in the backdrop of the first foreign ministers trilateral dialogue of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
India has opposed CPEC, which passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), on grounds that it infringes its sovereignty.
Speaking to the media in Beijing on Tuesday, Mr. Wang advocated that Afghanistan could join connectivity initiatives, in view of the urgency of improving its people’s lives.
“So China and Pakistan are willing to look at with Afghanistan, on the basis of win-win, mutually beneficial principles, using an appropriate means to extend CPEC to Afghanistan,” the Pajhwok Afghan News quoted him as saying.
China has called CPEC a “flagship project” of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), aimed at building connectivity along the Eurasian corridor. A joint statement released at the end of the one day conference said that the three countries reaffirmed their commitment towards “advancing connectivity under the Belt and Road Initiative”.
Mr. Wang was joined by Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, and his Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Muhammad Asif at the conference.
Zhou Rong, an academic with the Renmin University in Beijing told the state-broadcaster China Global Television Network (CGTN) that “Afghanistan has strong enthusiasm towards corridor construction.” He added: “They really hope that the Pakistan China Economic Corridor can be Pakistan Afghanistan China Economic Corridor.”
Analysts say that the proposal for landlocked Afghanistan’s, access to the port of Gwadar — the starting point of CPEC — may be intended to balance if not undermine the trilateral agreement among India, Iran and Afghanistan, which gives Kabul access to the Iranian port of Chabahar.
The first meeting of the three foreign ministers follows Mr. Wang’s visit to Kabul and Islamabad in June. During that visit, “Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed that they are building up a new mechanism of crisis management, including information sharing and intelligence cooperation. China supports these kind of bilateral efforts,” Hu Shisheng, Director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceanian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, had earlier told The Hindu.
Referring to the trilateral proposal, Dr. Hu said that, “The significance is that with this kind of mechanism, China will do its best to stabilise the bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Observers point out that China’s de facto mediation between Pakistan and Afghanistan is being domestically seen as a test case for similar efforts in other global hotspots. It follows Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech at the 19th party congress where he proposed that China would work towards establishing a global “community of shared destiny”.
The joint statement listed establishing “political mutual trust and reconciliation, development cooperation and connectivity, security cooperation and counter-terrorism as three topics of the trilateral cooperation”.
It signaled that considerable work was still required to concretise cooperation in the arena of counterterrorism and economy. The three foreign ministers agreed to “communicate and consult” on defining a Memorandum of Understanding on Counter-terrorism, it said.