NEW DELHI: In a statement that is unlikely to go down well in New Delhi, China on Sunday endorsed Pakistan’s “efforts for improvement of Pakistan-India relations and for settlement of outstanding disputes between the two countries”.
The statement follows Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s trip to Beijing November 2-5, where he met top Chinese leaders.
Noting that China’s relationship with Pakistan “is always a matter of highest priority in its foreign policy”, China hailed Pakistan’s attempts to get into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, another sore point with India given that Beijing has been constantly blocking India’s membership bid at the UN.
In return, Pakistan pledged its full support for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, and “reaffirmed its support to the Chinese side in safeguarding its sovereignty and security, and combating separatism, terrorism and extremism including East Turkistan Islamic Movement” in Xinjiang, where China has launched a massive crackdown on Uighur Muslims. It also reiterated support for China’s entry into SAARC, which has been dead in the water due to the India-Pakistan dispute.
The post-Wuhan honeymoon of India and China had actually started unravelling before that. Last month, days before Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe came to India, he had cancelled a housing contract given to Chinese firms and re-allocated them to India. When he returned, President Maithripala Sirisena deposed him and appointed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, known for his pro-China position, as PM.
Last week, at a conference on regional connectivity in New Delhi, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, in a veiled reference to CPEC and Belt and Road Initiative, said connectivity should build “trade, not tension”. Flanking him on the dais were the Japanese Ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu and US envoy Kenneth Juster. Perhaps in a sign that the meeting had hit a nerve, the joint statement in Beijing also declared that “both sides dismissed the growing negative propaganda against CPEC and expressed determination to safeguard the CPEC projects from all threats”