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‘Technical glitch’ hits India’s strong response to China-led BRI at UN meet

At a United Nations transport conference in Beijing last, a “technical problem” temporarily silenced the participating Indian diplomat’s microphone when delivering the speech on BRI.
In this file photo, visitors walk past a wall with a map showing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) countries, at an exhibition in Beijing, China. India expressed strong opposition to the China-led BRI at a United Nations transport conference in Beijing last week despite a “technical problem”. (REUTERS)
Updated on Oct 20, 2021 07:06 PM IST
BySutirtho Patranobis I Edited by Amit Chanda

India expressed strong opposition to the China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) at a United Nations transport conference in Beijing last week despite a “technical problem”, which temporarily silenced the participating Indian diplomat’s microphone when delivering the speech.

Priyanka Sohoni from the political section of the Indian embassy in Beijing was explaining New Delhi’s opposition to the BRI, the China-led intercontinental connectivity project, when her microphone went silent at the second UN Global Sustainable Transport Conference.

The October 14-16 conference was organised by China in Beijing under the aegis of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

Minutes before Sohoni spoke, a Pakistani diplomat had heaped praise on the BRI, and its flagship project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), calling it a “game changer” for the region in his speech.

After talking on how “…expansion and strengthening of physical connectivity is an integral part of India’s economic and diplomatic initiatives,” Sohoni questioned the principles behind BRI.

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“There have been some references to the BRI at this conference. Here, I wish to say that as far as China’s BRI is concerned, we are uniquely affected by it. It’s inclusion of the so-called CPEC as a flagship project impinges on India’s sovereignty,” Sohoni said. “No country can support an initiative that ignores its core concerns of sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she said without naming either China or Pakistan.

“This aside, there are also larger issues regarding how connectivity initiatives should be pursued. We are of the firm belief that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognised international norms. They must follow principles of openness, transparency and financial responsibility,” Sohoni said.

It was at this juncture that her microphone stopped working, making it impossible for Chinese and international delegates to hear her.

The connection was restored after DESA under-secretary general Liu Zhenmin - former Chinese vice foreign minister -- said it was a “technical problem” and asked Sohoni to “be patient”.

Sohoni finished her speech after the connection was restored.

“India for its part abides by these principles and stands ready to make collective efforts for sustainable developments through a human-centric approach,” she said at the end. “They must follow principles of openness, transparency and financial responsibility and be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty, equality and territorial integrity of nations.”

The short interruption seemingly allowed the Chinese transport minister, Li Xiaopeng, present at the session, to respond to the Indian diplomat’s criticism of the BRI. “I would like to extend my apologies for the technical glitch just now when the Indian delegate spoke,” Li said in Mandarin.

“I don’t want to be offensive. Just now you have mentioned a lot of topics. As for the topics you mentioned, I would like to make some complements,” Li said in what seemed to be a direct response to Sohoni’s statement.

“The BRI is open and inclusive. We tried to improve the connectivity and seek the development of all countries. In the past eight years, all the international communities have welcomed this initiative. Up to now about 141 countries and 32 organisations have signed more than 200 agreements with China,” Li said.

“A lot of important and practical projects have been implemented, which include a lot of important transport projects. I would like to invite all parties to contribute to the development of this (BRI) project,” Li said.

A diplomat who has worked at the UN said that Li being allowed to seemingly respond to the Indian diplomat’s critical speech was a likely breach of UN protocol.

President Xi Jinping had also mentioned the BRI in his speech to the conference on October 14. “China’s door of opening-up will only open wider, and will never be closed. China will continue to advance high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, strengthen infrastructure connectivity with other countries, and develop a green Silk Road and a digital Silk Road at a faster pace,” Xi said.

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