India risks being “isolated” if it decides not to attend the Chinese Belt and Road Forum on May 14-15, a senior Chinese official said, adding that time was running out for “adequate arrangements” to be made for India’s participation.
Pointing to the fact that both Japan and the United States, that are not participating in the 60-nation Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, are sending delegations to the forum, the official said the Indian government had yet to confirm whether any officials including those from the Indian embassy in Beijing might participate in the event. “Our relations with India are much better than our relations with Japan, and even so Japan is sending an official and India has not said whether it will,” the official told a select group of journalists.
‘Absence will be felt’
The official denied that China was trying to put pressure on India to attend by making public statements on the issue. “But we know that bilaterally, India’s absence at the forum will be felt deeply, when 28 leaders are attending and more than 100 countries are sending official delegations… All India’s neighbours will attend… There is a risk India will seem isolated by not attending the event.”
The official said “mainstream” and trade ties between India and China remained strong, but admitted that issues like India’s NSG membership and push for the U.N. to designate Masood Azhar as a terrorist, both of which are blocked by China, as well as the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh had put a strain on their political relationship.
“India expects China to understand its concerns on these issues. We expect India to tell Dalai Lama to behave like a guest, like a religious leader, and stop him and the government in exile from doing politics against the Chinese government,” the official said, referring to the visit as painful.
“The Dalai Lama episode is like a sting for bilateral relations. Even after the bite, the pain remains.”
The official also pointed out that despite the strain in ties, India and China will see several high-level meetings this year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping will meet at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Kazakhstan in June.
The MEA declined any comment on the Chinese official’s remarks, and the government has maintained that “no decision” has yet been taken on the level of India’s attendance at the Belt and Road. India has also made it clear that it is impossible to attend as long as China considers the CPEC projects planned in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for Gilgit-Baltistan as a part of the Belt and Road initiative due to concerns over “sovereignty.”
“India should ask China whether it is willing to address its concerns in such a way as to enable high-level Indian participation. Would China be willing to declare that the CPEC is not a component of the BRI but a separate bilateral China-Pakistan project?” former Ambassador P.S. Raghavan, who is the convener of the National Security Advisory Board, had written in an article for The Hindu on Thursday, suggesting that China would need to meet India’s concerns in order for a change in India’s stand.