China should stop CPEC if disputes rise: Top party academic

China should suspend or even stop controversial projects such as elements of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) if it leads to disputes and other countries find it objectionable, a top government-affiliated scholar has suggested.

Zhang Yunling, an influential academic who is member of the presidium of the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), an official think-tank, said in Beijing that the government should proceed carefully with transnational projects under the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR). China is hosting its first OBOR summit on May 14, with 28 leaders to attend.

Asked at a press briefing about sovereignty concerns in India because of parts of CPEC that pass through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), Zhang said: “Even in the case of navigation routes on the Mekong river, for example, many problems emerged so we have to discuss them one by one. We need to learn lessons. Sometimes the lesson may be too big and we may have to stop.”

CPEC IS A GRADUAL INVESTMENT

“Any transnational projects involve concerns of different countries,” he said. “We need to coordinate that to strike a balance to be acceptable to all parties. If we can’t reach that balance, maybe we can stop it for sometime.”

Zhang also said that contrary to many reports, China hasn’t already committed $46 billion to CPEC. “There is some misunderstanding about China Pakistan cooperation. Yes it’s tens of billions but its not one lump-sum investment. It is a gradual investment.”

China is unlikely to do a u-turn on CPEC, a part of which runs through PoK. Beijing has already given the green light to expanding the Karakoram highway, the Gwadar port project and a number of energy projects.

But Zhang’s comments indicate Beijing’s academics are examining the concerns voiced by many countries on certain aspects of OBOR, and are suggesting that certain elements of projects be revisited if required. India isn’t opposed to the entire plan, but to parts of CPEC that run through Indian territory in PoK.

India hasn’t accepted an invitation to send a representative to the first Belt and Road Forum on May 14. Zhang noted that the “Indian government has been quite prudent or cautious in expressing its attitude towards the Belt and Road Initiative, but participates in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)” where India is the second-largest shareholder. China also refers to the One Belt, One Road as the BRI initiative in English.

He suggested that India’s non-endorsement need not necessarily emerge as a barrier to India-China cooperation. “We do not need to put a BRI label to everything. It only provides a platform. For China India cooperation we don’t need to look at the BRI initiative alone, we already have a range of cooperation in wide range of areas including infrastructure”.

At the May 14 summit, Zhang said China may come up with new ideas for the initiative. Beijing is especially aware that many countries in the region have been wary at what they see as a Chinese initiative without a mechanism for consultations among all regional stakeholders. No major Western leader will be at the summit. Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend, as will the Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka and Pakistan and seven leaders from the 10 ASEAN countries.

“There is a lot of suspicion,” acknowledged Zhang with regard to the maritime silk road plan, “but it will take time for people to overcome their misgivings”. “We need the consent of all parties,” he said. “We need joint discussion.”

As for some projects that have faced difficulties in the region, from the Myitsone dam in Myanmar and a high speed rail in Thailand to the Hambantota port project in Sri Lanka, Zhang said risks were inevitable. “In Hambantota, yes there were problems for some time but it has restarted and the prospects are rather good. Thailand is changing the railway plan. We need to share the risks so that we are jointly designing, jointly building and jointly discussing projects. Whenever there is any danger there should be immediate communication on the risks and dangers and should also involve dispute settlement mechanism,” he said.

By: India Today

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