BEIJING: China on Saturday sent out conflicting signals even as India decided to boycott the two-day Belt and Road Forum in Beijing starting tomorrow.
Beijing suggested that it is ready keep the doors open for India to join the Belt program at a later date but will not budge from a construction program in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is attending the summit, brought along with him chief ministers of four Pakistani provinces. However, he did not include the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, which covers the disputed PoK region. This is seen as an attempt to placate New Delhi and send out a signal that India is still welcome to join the Belt and Road program.
On the other hand, China hosted a conference on Saturday on the construction of a major hydroelectricity dam, the Diamer-Bhasha dam, which is located in the disputed areas of Gilgit-Baltistan. The purpose of holding the conference at this time was to convey that the Indian boycott would not affect Chinese determination to construct projects in the area.
India has objected to the fact that one portion of the Belt and Road program, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, raising serious sovereignty concerns.
"The government head in Gilgit-Baltistan did not come for technical reasons. But China is also conveying a subtle message that is recognises India's concerns on the Kashmir issue," Hu Shishang, director of the government-run Institute of South and South East Asian Affairs told TOI.
Hu added it would be perfectly alright if India wants to take its own time to decide, and prefers to join the Belt and Road program at a later date.
"This is not a time-bound program. A country may join when it feels more confident about it. But this is a globalized world, and it would only help India if it joins the program," he said.
Pakistan had earlier tried to obtain finance for the Daimer-Bhasha dam project from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Aga Khan Foundation. But there were serious questions about whether these financiers would agree without obtaining a no-objection sign from India, which claims the area as it own.
China's National Energy Administration has now stepped forward to finance and construct the project. NEA made a presentation about how it will go about the task at a conference attended by Sharif in Beijing on Saturday.
A memorandum of understanding on the project was also signed by the Chinese ambassador in Pakistan, Sun Weidong, and Pakistani power secretary Naseem Khokhar.
The decision to drop Gilgit-Baltistan chief minister Hafeez-ur-Rehman from Sharif's delegation resulted in strong resentment being expressed by the people in the province in the social media, according to Pakistan Today. Rehman was in the original list of delegates but dropped at the last minute, it reported.
Sharif's team in Beijing includes chief ministers of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces of Pakistan. He is also accompanied by five ministers from the central government in Islamabad.
The Indian Embassy in Beijing could not confirm if New Delhi was sending a delegation to the Belt and Road Forum (BRF). It said that it had "nothing to offer" by way of information on this count.
"Apart from the soverignity issue, a major reason why India cannot support the BRF is that China is in an empire-building mode," Mohan Malik, professor at the US-based Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies told TOI.
"It's trying to build an empire of exclusive economic enclaves that would create a Sino-centric unipolar Asia. This is China's "imperial overreach" at a time of economic slowdown," he said.