The European Union and India have now joined hands to prevent China from extending its Belt and Road Initiative connectivity projects through the territories of third countries, in gross violation of their sovereignty rights.
The construction of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) is a glaring example of such high-handed behaviour of Beijing. The Fourth Strategic Partnership Review Meeting between European Union and India in New Delhi on May 8, 2023, discussed the perspectives for a safer, prosperous and more democratic world.
“Both sides discussed cooperation in the sphere of connectivity and emphasised that connectivity projects respect sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said a joint Press release issued after the meeting.
India has repeatedly registered its protests over the CPEC, the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative of China; saying the construction of the road violates the sovereignty of India as it passes through the Gilgit-Baltistan area of PoK, an Indian territory illegally occupied by Pakistan.
India protested in May, 2021, when China said it was planning to extend its CPEC to Afghanistan.
China has disregarded India’s protests and sovereignty concerns. Paying scant regard to Indian interests, on May 9, 2023, Pakistan, China and Afghanistan formally agreed to extend the CPEC to Afghanistan.
In fact, the visit of Foreign Minister of China Qin Gang to New Delhi and Islamabad in the first week of May is an evidence of the cynic and treacherous nature of the current Chinese leadership.
In New Delhi, the Chinese Foreign Minister tried to cajole the Indian leadership to normalise the Sino-Indian relations, while forgetting the issue of illegal occupation by China of large chunks of disputed territories on the India–China border; in eastern Ladakh and other places.
It is another matter that the Indian leadership has seen through the Chinese design.
On May 12, addressing the Sixth edition of the Indian Ocean Conference in Dhaka, Foreign Minister of India S. Jaishankar said that one could not trust a nation that disregarded legal obligations and violated long-standing agreements.
From New Delhi, however, Foreign Minister of China Qin Gang flew directly to Islamabad and at the 5th China – Afghanistan – Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue decided on extending the CPEC to Afghanistan, knowing that this move would perpetuate the illegal occupation of Indian territories in Kashmir by Pakistan.
In a joint statement issued after the meeting on May 6, the three sides reaffirmed “their commitment to further trilateral cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative and to jointly extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan”.
It seems, however, that the Chinese leadership has failed to read the writing on the wall that the Common people of Pakistan are not accepting the BRI projects that are not bringing any benefit for them and are wholly in the interest of China.
Within days of the visit of Foreign Minister of China Qin Gang to Pakistan and the decision to extend the CPEC to Afghanistan, on May 11 Chinese nationals working in a shipyard in the port city of Karachi in Pakistan had a providential escape as a suspected suicide bomber was killed and a deadly attack on Chinese nationals was foiled by security forces.
This is not the first time, however, that Chinese nationals working in BRI and other projects in Pakistan have faced lethal attacks.
In April 2022, a female suicide bomber carried out an attack on a van carrying three Chinese teachers at Karachi University.
Earlier in July 2021, nine Chinese engineers were killed in an explosion in a bus at Dasu hydropower plant.
There have been various other attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan in recent months, indicating the deep resentment of the common Pakistani against the BRI projects of China.
While delivering the Fullerton Lecture in Singapore in 2015, then Foreign Secretary of India S. Jaishankar (now the Indian External Affairs Minister) rejected the concept of the BRI and described it as “China’s national initiative”.
He said: “If a country is going ahead with implementing a national initiative, it’s not incumbent on other countries to necessarily buy it. There would be a need for a large discussion and that hasn’t happened.”
In other words, China is trying to thrust BRI projects on other countries to serve its own national interest and to the detriment of the interest of the recipient countries.
The widespread perception in India is that the BRI initiative is an attempt by China to unsettle the established regional order and replace it with a China-centric system that would marginalise other Asian powers such as India and Japan.
There is also the concern that countries that will host BRI projects will have to face unsustainable debt burden and ecological and environmental disorder.
The experience of Sri Lanka and Pakistan with BRI projects has vindicated these concerns. Both the countries are caught in a debt trap and are now dependent on the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package.
Besides, Sri Lanka has lost control over Hambantota Port to China. Now Bangladesh has expressed reservations about BRI projects.
The European Union, too, has suffered because of Chinese attempts to extend BRI projects to Europe. Beijing has been successful in roping into the BRI only some of the less prosperous European nations, mostly in east Europe.
A Chinese ambition to involve the G-7 nations in its questionable BRI projects has, however, predictably failed.
At one stage, China signed some BRI agreements with Italy; but realising the dangers of getting caught in a debt trap and falling prey to Chinese designs to undermine the cyber security of Italy, Rome has since walked out of these projects.
The EU has realised that Beijing is trying to arm-twist the European countries which have signed BRI agreements with China to get sufficient political foothold to influence policies of the EU.
Like, in June 2017 Greece blocked an EU statement at the U.N. Human Rights Council criticising the human rights records of China; the first time the EU failed to make a joint statement at the top human rights body of the U.N.
In March 2017, Hungary refused to sign a joint letter denouncing the reported torture of detained lawyers in China, going against an EU consensus.
In July 2016, Hungary and Greece sought to block any direct reference to China in an EU statement about the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that struck down the legal claims of Beijing in the South China Sea.
President of France Emmanuel Macron in a visit to China in January 2018 echoed the concern of some EU member states about the BRI; stating there could be no “one way” trade road leading to “hegemony, which would transform the recipient countries into vassals”; thus making it clear that Beijing was using the BRI to extend its hegemony over the recipient countries of the financial assistance.
In the past, other European leaders like British Prime Minister Theresa May had refused to endorse the BRI.
Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel had warned that China’s “New Silk Road” was not being conducted “in the spirit of free trade” and that it could lead to Chinese influence in the Balkans.
In the past, the EU has voiced concerns about BRI projects on issues such as lack of respect for labour, environment and human rights standards.
At a Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in June 2017, European Commission Vice President Jirki Katainen stressed that the EU would only endorse the BRI if China adhered to principles such as openness, interoperability, transparency and sustainability.
This position has demonstrated fairly strong EU unity, according to analysts.
China does not care for the human rights records of the countries where they want to extend their BRI.
That’s why BRI is so popular with the autocratic and oppressive rulers in the world.
It is no wonder that Beijing has now decided to extend the BRI to Afghanistan, with the abominable human rights records of the Taliban rulers.
A report from the UN Mission in Afghanistan in July 2022 has confirmed the erosion in basic human rights in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, “extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and violation of fundamental freedom”.
Women in Afghanistan have experienced their rights of access to education, to the workplace and to participate in public life severely restricted.
“Not allowing girls to go to secondary school means a generation of girls will not complete their full 12 years of basic education,” says the report.
An Amnesty International report on Afghanistan in 2022 presents an equally grim picture of the human rights situation in Afghanistan.
The rulers in Beijing, by extending the CPEC to Afghanistan, want to strengthen the hands of the obscurantist and oppressive Taliban rulers.