Chinese state media called India “skeptical, nervous and anxious” on Monday, taunting New Delhi for not joining Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) over sovereignty concerns and worries about the debt burden of other countries.
A state media article questioned why an onlooker was more anxious than the participants about taking part in the trans-continental connectivity project.
It warned that if India decided to join the initiative in the future, it might just have a “small role” to play.
India skipped the high-profile Belt and Road Forum (BRF) held in Beijing on Sunday and Monday over concerns about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which passes through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK).
The Global Times article was published even as President Xi Jinping inaugurated the BRF round-table summit with around 29 heads of states taking part in it on Monday morning at the Yanqi Lake International Convention Centre, some 70km from the centre of Beijing amid low-lying hills and a lake.
At the round-table, Xi spoke about hastening the process connecting regions in the world through infrastructure projects.
On Sunday, he pledged $124 billion to the plan, and called for the abandonment of old models based on rivalry and diplomatic power games.
But New Delhi officially ruled out sending a delegation on Saturday.
“No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Gopal Baglay, ministry of external affairs spokesperson said, referring to the CPEC.
“Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities,” Baglay added, talking about the danger of debt for host countries, especially smaller economies that may struggle to pay back loans for infrastructure projects funded by China.
“We are of firm belief that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognised international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality,” Baglay said.
The Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid, found Baglay’s mention of the debt burden worthy of some sarcasm.
“It is strange that the onlooker is more anxious than the players. While India cares about its neighbors’ debt burden, the neighbors appear willing to take on more,” the article said.
It then cited deals that China had inked with Pakistan and Nepal to dismiss India’s assertions.
“Pakistan and China inked new deals worth nearly $500 million, covering airport, port and highway construction. As regards the potential debt burden, Pakistan’s repayments will peak at around $5 billion in 2022, but this will be offset by transit fees charged in the CPEC, Reuters reported on Saturday, citing the government’s chief economist,” the article added.
“Last week, Nepal officially signed a deal with China to join the B&R, and the country is also reportedly in talks with China to build a cross-border rail link that may cost up to $8 billion,” it said.
On India’s concerns over the CPEC, it said China has said projects passing through PoK will not affect Beijing’s stand on Kashmir --- which on paper is that India and Pakistan should resolve the dispute through dialogue and negotiations.
“China would never force any country to participate in the B&R if it was too skeptical and nervous to do so. It is regrettable but not a problem that India still maintains its strong opposition to the B&R, even though China has repeatedly said its position on the Kashmir dispute would not change because of the CPEC,” the article said.
“China has formally invited India to join the B&R. If India doesn’t want to take a part on the stage, then it should just be a good member of the audience. The role is still available if India changes its mind, but it may only be a small role if it is left too late,” the article said.