New Delhi: Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi on 27 July held the first joint virtual conference with his counterparts from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal during which he proposed a four-point plan to contain the COVID pandemic while the communist state’s primary objective appears to be to resume the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) infrastructure projects by telling these countries what is essentially a trade dominance tactic for the CCP would prove an economic booster for the partner states.
The addition of Nepal and Afghanistan as partners is noteworthy, as Pakistan agreed to being a part of the BRI long ago as expected of a client state.
Additionally, China wants some cooperation from Nepal and Afghanistan in developing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
According to a press release the Foreign Ministry of China, Afghanistan’s acting Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar and Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali attended the virtual meeting.
However, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi did not participate in the meeting. Islamabad was represented by Economic Affairs Minister Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, sources said.
The video conference, organised by Beijing ostensibly to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, was held against the backdrop of the months-long India-China border standoff. Given India’s currently strained ties with Nepal, the meeting is unlikely to go down well with the foreign policy establishment in New Delhi.
Wang, one of China’s senior-most diplomats with the rank of state councillor, said the four states should give “full play to geographic advantages, strengthen exchanges and connections between the four countries and Central Asian countries, and maintain regional peace and stability”, according to a statement in Mandarin issued on Monday night.
The four countries should also “actively promote the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the trans-Himalayan three-dimensional inter connectivity network, support the extension of to Afghanistan, and further release the regional interconnection dividend”, he said.
Even for China, it is rare to call for four-party cooperation in South Asia without involving India. But the move fits Beijing’s current narrative.
Statement from China’s foreign ministry
The statement from China’s foreign ministry indicated Beijing is looking at a more permanent cooperation mechanism with the three South Asian countries than just working together to counter the pandemic.
The meeting added to Beijing’s own narrative that it is ready to play a bigger role in war-torn Afghanistan’s peace process. For Nepal, it was an opportunity to send out a message about its increasingly snug ties with China amid the strained relations with India.
As for Pakistan, Wang himself cited the example of “iron brother” ties between Islamabad and Beijing. Emphasising that having good neighbours is “good fortune”, Wang called on Nepal and Afghanistan to follow the example of Sino-Pakistan cooperation to fight the pandemic.
Wang said learning from the Sino-Pakistan cooperation, Afghanistan and Nepal should expand four-nation joint prevention and control of COVID-19 and make arrangements for epidemic prevention, resumption of economic activity and personnel exchanges.
He said under the principle of anti-epidemic cooperation, the four countries should open up “fast channels” and “green channels” for personnel and logistics as soon as possible.
They should also strengthen joint prevention and control in border areas, and frame jointly recognised standard operating procedures for epidemic notification, prevention, management and control, he said.
As part of post-pandemic recovery and economic development, Wang said, the other countries should firmly promote the joint construction of BRI, promote the resumption of key cooperation projects, maintain the stability of industrial and supply chains, and create new economic growth points in the digital field.
The online meeting was joined by Pakistan’s foreign and economic ministers, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Khushro Bakhtiar, Nepal’s foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali and Afghanistan’s acting foreign minister Hanif Atmar.