Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping talk during a meeting in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, Saturday, April 28, 2018.(AP Photo)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping talk during a meeting in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, Saturday, April 28, 2018.(AP Photo)

Sino-Indian project in Afghanistan signals cooperation, message to Pakistan

During the two-day informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in Wuhan which concluded on April 28, India and China agreed for the first time to implement a joint economic project in war-torn Afghanistan.
By Sutirtho Patranobis | Hindustan Times, Beijing
UPDATED ON MAY 01, 2018 04:01 PM IST

A ground-breaking joint Sino-Indian economic project in Afghanistan will send the signal that cooperation can prevail over competition and a message to Pakistan that China recognises India’s legitimate role in Afghanistan, say strategic experts.

During the two-day informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in Wuhan which concluded on April 28, India and China agreed for the first time to implement a joint economic project in war-torn Afghanistan. Indian and Chinese officials will identify the project and work out the modalities of cooperation.

The two Asian powers had earlier discussed possible cooperation in third countries and as early as in 2010 when officials from the two countries exchanged views on possible infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. But the discussions which were subsequently sidelined got a major boost at the summit where Modi and Xi talked cooperation in a third country.

“There will be more China-India projects in the region in the pipeline, some of which will involve a third party,” Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou told a media briefing at the end of the summit. Separately, an Indian official said the project will be in Afghanistan.

The decision will have a bearing on the region and on Afghanistan’s role as a “roundabout” of cooperation in Asia, said Barnett Rubin, Senior Fellow at the Center on International Cooperation and former advisor to UNAMA (UN Mission to Afghanistan).

“This agreement constitutes recognition of Afghanistan’s efforts to become a “roundabout” of Asian cooperation — it is exactly what the government has been working for. It also constitutes an implicit rebuke to both the U.S. and Pakistan,” Rubin said.

He added: “The Trump administration has tried to portray Asia as the scene of a new cold war between China with the Belt and Road Initiative and the so-called ‘Indo-Pacific’ led by the US and India. This agreement showcases the Chinese position that cooperation should prevail over competition, while the

Trump National Security Strategy emphasises the primacy of competition,” Rubin said.

Chinese academics agreed, saying it opens up opportunities for India and China to engage in other countries.

“It is a good start. More joint projects should be in their shared neighborhood such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and other ASEAN countries. Africa is also a region of full of possibilities,” said Lili, south Asian scholar at the Institute for International Relations at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

“It is worthwhile to have such kind of cooperation in Afghanistan. There are so many areas we can cooperate like in infrastructure and mining,” said Hu Shisheng, director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceania Studies in Beijing.

The Sino-Indian agreement is expected to rile Pakistan which has consistently tried to exclude India from a region it considers as its strategic area of influence.

Although the Chinese scholars were reluctant to comment on how Pakistan will react to the Modi-Xi decision, Rubin was clear about the message it has sent out.

“The message to Pakistan is clear: China welcomes India’s legitimate role in Afghanistan. For years the Pakistan military has rationalised its support for the Taliban and other pressures on Kabul by citing the threat posed by the Indian presence in Afghanistan. Now without saying a word directly to Pakistan, China has announced that it not only recognises but wants to cooperate with the Indian presence in Afghanistan,” Rubin said.

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