BEIJING: In a diplomatic embarrassment, China has removed the remarks of its envoy in India offering to rename the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) from the transcript of his speech posted on the Chinese embassy website.
Chinese ambassador to New Delhi Luo Zhaohui's remarks that "Even we can think about renaming the CPEC" has been removed from his speech copy posted on the Chinese embassy website.
Seeking to allay India's concerns, ambassador Luo had offered to rename the CPEC which passes through Pakistan- occupied Kashmir, insisting it was an economic cooperation and connectivity enhancement project devoid of "sovereignty issues".
He also pushed for New Delhi's participation in the 'One Belt One Road' (OBOR) project.
Referring to the CPEC, which is part of OBOR, he said China has no intention to get involved in the sovereignty and territorial disputes between India and Pakistan and that the project is for promoting economic cooperation and connectivity in the region.
"It has no connections to or impact on sovereignty issues. Even we can think about renaming the CPEC. China and India have had successful experience of delinking sovereignty disputes from bilateral relations before," he had said in closed-door address to a think-tank last Friday.
Meanwhile in Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry parried questions over the Chinese embassy removing the much- publicised offer of renaming the CPEC from Luo's speech.
"You just mentioned a statement of Ambassador Luo Zhaohui while attending an activity in India," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told media here replying to a volley of questions on why the key line expressing China’s willingness to rename the USD 50 billion CPEC was dropped.
"According to my understanding, the Chinese embassy in India released information about the Ambassador’s attendance and relevant activities. If you are interested I suggest you use the internet for more information," Geng said.
Asked whether Pakistan has sought clarification from China over the renaming of CPEC as per the reports from Islamabad, Geng said, "I am not aware of that. As for the ambassador's participation and his speech, the embassy has released relevant information on the website."
To another question whether the ambassador was speaking for the Chinese government when he said China was open to renaming the CPEC, Geng said, “You have been asking questions about renaming the corridor. I suggest that information about relevant actives of the ambassador and his speech, the Chinese embassy has put relevant information on the its website. You can check the the website. I have nothing more to offer."
Geng reiterated that the CPEC will not have any impact on China's stand on the Kashmir issue.
"With regard to the CPEC, we have been stressing that it is an economic corridor. China’s promotion of the programme does not mean we have changed our position on the relevant (Kashmir) issue," he said.
"These are two different things. We have been pointing out that the issue of Kashmir is left over from the history between India and Pakistan and the two sides would properly address it through dialogue and consultation," he said.
The envoy had also proposed a four-point initiative to improve ties between India and China which includes aligning its 'OBOR' project with India's 'Act East Policy', and restarting negotiations on a free trade pact.
Asked about Luo’s other proposals, Geng said, “As per his proposals what I can say is China and India are two major developing countries in the world. Enhancement of bilateral relationship and expansion of cooperation between the two countries serve the best interests of the people of the two countries.
"It is also conducive to peace and stability of the region and the world at large. China's willingness to improve relationship with India is very clear and remains unchanged."
The Chinese envoy's offer to rename the CPEC has reportedly caused consternation in Pakistan with Ministry of Planning and Development writing to Chinese embassy in Islamabad, seeking clarification over Luo's remarks.
Chinese officials in their 'off the record' conversation expressed scepticism over Beijing renaming the CPEC which is a flagship project of Chinese President Xi Jinping's multibillion silk road initiative called Belt and Road (BR) that too ahead of the BR summit to be held later this week, China was keen about India's participation in the project.
The summit will be held on May 14-15 in Beijing. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and 27 other heads of state and government will attend the summit.
India, which is an invitee, is yet to name its delegation.
Geng said "as far as India's participation is concerned, some Indian scholars have registered to attend the high-level meeting during the forum.
"As the host country, China will warmly welcome all the participants including the scholars from India", Geng said.
To another question about the CPEC's progress, Geng said the building of the corridor is progressing very smoothly and has entered into a comprehensive stage of implementation.
“We have planned 17 priority programmes in the field of energy. Eleven were already put into construction. A Majority of the programmes will be finished by the end of 2019. Energy shortage in Pakistan will be greatly relieved and the projects will deliver benefits for the people of Pakistan," Geng said.
Asked about Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat’s remarks that India should have good relations with Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan to counter close relations between China and Pakistan, Geng said, “We welcome bilateral cooperation between India and other relevant countries. We hope this kind of cooperation would be conducive to enhance mutual trust among countries in the region as well as regional peace and stability."