- China, Pak plan to extend corridor which runs through PoK to Afghanistan
- India protests Chinese interference, says PoK part of Jammu and Kashmir
- China claims project not directed at India, calls New Delhi an outsider
At the first trilateral meeting of Foreign Ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan in Beijing on Tuesday, China offered to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC to Afghanistan.
Besides Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, his counterparts from Pakistan and Afghanistan, Khawaja Asif and Salahuddin Rabbani respectively attended the meeting.
When asked about reports that China's plans to extend the CPEC to Afghanistan sparked concerns in India, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the project extension is not directed at any "third country". Her statement comes despite New Delhi making it very clear that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is part of Jammu and Kashmir and hence an integral part of India.
She said the project serves the common interests of the three counties. "This cooperation is not directed at any country and any party. The dialogue and cooperation should not be influenced or disturbed by any country," she said.
Though Ms Hua did not directly name India, she was responding to a question on reports about India's concerns about CPEC, which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. "We stressed many times, CPEC is not directed at any 'third party' and we hope it can bring benefits for third country," Ms Hua said, referring to India's concerns.
Pakistan and China don't share a border. Pakistan's only link to China is through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). It is India and Afghanistan who share a border, now cut-off by Pakistan's forceful occupation of PoK.
India has protested the CPEC project as it runs through PoK, which India maintains is part of Jammu and Kashmir, its northernmost state, and therefore Indian territory. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi however, claimed that the plan had nothing to do with territorial disputes.
China tries to position itself as a 'helpful party' in talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan, both uneasy neighbours since 1947, when Pakistan was created after the division of India when it gained independence from Britain.
Ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan have soured in recent years as Kabul blames Islamabad of supporting and funding Taliban terrorists, who are responsible for repeated attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan's main objective, Kabul says, is to limit the influence of India in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies this and instead, claims innocence in attacks carried out by terrorists who cross the Pak-Afghan border.
The CPEC, a flagship project of China's prestigious One Belt One Road, links its restive Xinjiang region to Pakistan via Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and extends till the port city of Gwadar in Balochistan.
"It is an economic cooperation programme and it should not be politicised and has nothing to do with territorial dispute," Ms Hua claimed.
Though Pakistan and China don't share a border, Ms Hua said "Afghanistan is a common neighbour of China and Pakistan. They have strong desire to develop economy and improve livelihood. They are willing to integrate into the regional connectivity process and willing to integrate into CPEC".
The three sides have agreed to promote connectivity under the 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 has been reached on an 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.
She 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 that 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 joint security of the region, promote regional connectivity, and Belt and Road Initiative.
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 the Belt and Road Initiative and actively explore the trilateral cooperation under it.
(With inputs from PTI)