ISLAMABAD: Pakistan-China Institute chairman Senator Mushahid Hussain presiding over the ‘Non-Governmental Online Conference on Belt and Road Initiative’. The conference organised by the PCI was attended by eight countries.—INP
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan-China Institute chairman Senator Mushahid Hussain presiding over the ‘Non-Governmental Online Conference on Belt and Road Initiative’. The conference organised by the PCI was attended by eight countries.—INP

ISLAMABAD: The first non-governmental online conference on Belt and Road Initiative on Wednesday rejected the so-called ‘debt trap’ propaganda and agreed that BRI was the way forward as it promoted regional con­nectivity based on principles of equality, reciprocity and mutual benefit.

It was highlighted at the conference that as in the case of Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the total debt of China was a very small percentage of what was owed by these two states to other countries or multilateral institutions of the world.

Convened by the Pakistan-China Institute (PCI), the conference had par­ticipants from Pakistan, China, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kaz­a­­k­hstan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

The conference had a wide-ranging discussion on different dimensions of BRI, followed by a question and answer session.

Project hailed as the way forward for promoting regional connectivity

There was a consensus among participants of the conference that the coronavirus crisis underlined the need for glo­bal interdependence to forge closer coo­p­eration to tackle common challenges.

The participants agreed that BRI was the way forward as it promoted regional connectivity, based on principles of eq­u­ality, reciprocity and mutual benefit.

The participants also rejected the ‘New Cold War’ tactic of demonising or stigmatising a country by using Covid-19 as a political weapon, or targeting BRI on geopolitical grounds.

The India factor was recognised by countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka as they were neighbours and would like to have good relations with both China and India and it was made clear that neither BRI was a military alliance nor was it directed against India or any Western country.

Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, in his opening remarks, termed BRI the biggest and most significant diplomatic and development initiative of the 21st century.

He said that CPEC, as the flagship of BRI, was already a success story and it had entered its second phase successfully.

He said that energy and infrastructure projects had been completed on schedule and 75,000 Pakistanis had got jobs in BRI projects and 28,000 Paki­stani students were studying in China.

Janan Musazai, Afghanistan’s former ambassador to Pakistan and China, gave a specific five-point plan for Kabul’s role in BRI and referred to CPEC as well, saying Afghanistan could be a land bridge for connectivity for countries of the region.

Representatives of Bangladesh, Kaza­khstan and Myanmar referred to the roles of their respective countries as part of BRI and recalled how different projects were being initiated and exchange of high-level visits between these countries and China is taking place.

Prof Jayanath debunked the ‘debt trap’ theory regarding Sri Lanka. Citing facts and figures, he said that of Sri Lanka’s total debt of $57 billion, only $8.5bn was owed to China.

He warned that with about 120 warships in the Indian Ocean, it was becoming ‘the most militarised ocean in the world’. He underlined the need for countries to have food and medicine security.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2020