China says Afghanistan willing to integrate into CPEC, move not directed against India
China has tried to position itself as a helpful party to promote talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan, both uneasy neighbours ever since Pakistan’s independence in 1947.
China said on Wednesday its ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is not directed against India and warned that the project should not be influenced or disturbed by any third country, a day after Beijing offered to extend the $50 billion project to Afghanistan.
A day after Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said China and Pakistan want Afghanistan to join the CPEC, Beijing said Kabul was willing to join the multi-billion dollar corridor, which cuts through Pakistan-administered Kashmir claimed by India.
China offered to extend CPEC to Afghanistan as the three sides pledged to step-up counter-terrorism cooperation and not to allow any country, group or individual to use their soils for terrorism at the first trilateral meeting of foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan in Beijing.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the project extension was not directed at any third country and that it serves the common interests of the three counties.
“Just as foreign minister Wang Yi said at the joint press conference, CPEC is not directed at the third party and we hope to bring benefit to the third party and the whole region,” Hua said without naming India while responding to a question on reports about New Delhi’s concerns about CPEC.
“The trilateral cooperation and dialogue is not directed at any country or any party and the dialogue and cooperation should not be influenced and disturbed,” Hua said.
The CPEC is a flagship project of China’s prestigious One Belt One Road and links its restive Xinjiang region with Pakistan’s Gwadar port in Balochistan province.
The network of highways, railways, roads and special economic zones is opposed by India as it passes through a part of Kashmir held by Pakistan and claimed by India.
“It is an economic cooperation programme and it should not be politicised and has nothing to do with territorial dispute,” she said adding that the project will bring the benefit to the third party and the whole region.
“Afghanistan is a common neighbour of China and Pakistan. They have strong desire to develop the economy and improve livelihood. They are willing to integrate into the regional connectivity process and willing to integrate into CPEC,” she said.
The three sides have agreed to promote connectivity under Belt and Road Initiative framework and follow the principle of starting from easy and smaller projects step by step to identify cooperation projects for common development, she said.
During the trilateral meeting, a consensus was reached on eight-point plan to bring peace between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The consensus included a security mechanism to enhance counter-terrorism cooperation to fight all forms of terrorist organisations and terrorists, she added.
Hua said Afghanistan and Pakistan will promote the exchanges between their clerics and avoid the spread of religious extremism. Under the trilateral framework of the dialogue, the countries should follow the principle of mutual benefit and equal consultation, she said.
She said the three sides have agreed to stay committed to the four goals - support Afghanistan’s peaceful reconstruction and reconciliation peace process, help Afghanistan and Pakistan to improve and develop ties, promote the joint security of the region, promote regional connectivity, and BRI.
The three sides reaffirmed their commitment to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned Afghan peace process. Afghanistan and Pakistan have agreed to align their development strategies to BRI and actively explore the trilateral cooperation under it.
China and Pakistan have also agreed to provide assistance to Afghanistan in areas such as public health, human resources, and agriculture, Hua added.
China has always sought to allay India’s apprehensions about the project, describing it purely as an economic initiative. Beijing also says the project will not affect its neutral stance on the Kashmir issue.