China will hold its 2nd Belt and Road Forum (BRF) from Thursday to showcase its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) without India’s presence for the second consecutive time, while 37 heads of the state and government, including from Pakistan, would attend the three-day grand event.
The BRI was launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping when he came to power in 2013. It aims to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes.
The CPEC, which connects Gwadar Port in Pakistan’s Balochistan with China’s Xinjiang province, is the flagship project of Xi’s ambitious BRI.
India has been boycotting the BRI to protest over the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) being laid through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Besides India’s protests over the CPEC, China’s doling out of huge sums of money especially to smaller countries raised concerns after Beijing acquired Sri Lanka’s strategic Hambantota port on a 99-year lease as a debt swap.
Informed sources said that China has not extended an invitation to India at the leadership or Ministerial level.
In 2017, Beijing had invited India to take part in six separate forums of the BRF, which India had boycotted.
In his press conference on April 19 on BRF, Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi, while acknowledging the differences, had played down its impact on the bilateral ties especially after last year’s Wuhan summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi.
“It is natural for us to have differences…One of our differences is how to look at the BRI. The Indian side has their concerns. We understand that and that is why we have stated clearly on many occasions that the BRI including the CPEC is only an economic initiative and it does not target any third country and has nothing to do with the sovereign and territorial disputes left from history between any two countries,” he said.
Ahead of the BRF meeting, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale held talks with Wang and other top Chinese officials on Monday on a host of bilateral issues.
Wang said that 37 heads of state and government including the UN and the IMF would attend the event.
Representatives from over 150 countries organisations’ close to 5,000 participants have confirmed their participation.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Nepalese President Bidhya Devi Bhandari would also attend the event.
While the US said it would send junior level official delegation, Russian President Vladimir Putin would be among the top leaders attending event.
Wang said France, Germany, the UK, Spain, Japan, South Korea and the EU will also send high-level representatives to the forum.
He said the total trade volume between China and the BRI participating countries had surpassed USD 6 trillion and investment exceeded USD 80 billion.