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Silk Road meet ends: Indian boycott fails to stop China's ambitions

India skipped the forum in opposition to the multi-billion dollar CPEC project

IANS  |  Beijing 

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, and countries' leaders and delegates attending the Belt and Road Forum pose for a group photo on stage at the China National Convention Center in Beijing (Photo: AP/P

China's ambitious Belt and Road forum ended on Monday with President announcing the next summit for 2019 and hailing the project as the "road to peace." The summit in Beijing was attended by leaders of 29 countries. 

While Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani and Sri Lankan Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Ranil Wickremesinghe were present at the two-day summit, India's absence in the meet was conspicuous.

India skipped the forum in opposition to the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which India claims.

Citing its objection to CPEC, India on Saturday said "it cannot accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity".

However, China's Foreign Ministry on Monday again sought to allay New Delhi's fear, saying that the CPEC was not aimed at India and the project would not affect Beijing's position on the Kashmir dispute.

Reacting to India's absence at the forum, it said that the "CPEC was an initiative on economic cooperation".

"It is not directed at any third parties, not relevant to disputes over territorial sovereignty and does not affect China's position on the Kashmir issue," a statement by the ministry said.

"Regarding the issue of Kashmir which the Indian side is concerned about, we have been stressing that the issue was left over from history between India and Pakistan, and should be properly addressed by the two sides through consultation and negotiation," the statement added. 

Addressing the media on the second and final day of the event, Xi urged countries to shun protectionism and enhance dialogue to "settle disputes and resolve differences in maintaining regional stability".

"The Belt and Road Initiative is not set by ideology. We won't set a political agenda. It's not exclusive," he said, allaying fears of many countries that see the project as more of a geopolitical design.

Countries like India and the US are sceptical of the project and view it as a geostrategic design. However, maintains the project is only for reaping economic benefits.

India is dead against the CPEC, a vital part of the initiative.

The CPEC connects China's Xinjiang region with Pakistan's Gwadar port in restive Balochistan.

India fears after gaining access to the Arabian Sea through Gwadar, will find it easy to sail into the Indian Ocean.

India is heavily dependent on its energy imports through sea routes.

Earlier, in the press conference, Xi said that 68 countries have signed the agreement of cooperation.

A communique at the end of the summit said: "We reaffirm our shared commitment to build open economy, ensure free and inclusive trade, oppose all forms of protectionism, including in the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative."

"We endeavour to promote a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system with WTO (World Trade Organization) at its core," the communique said.

Announced by Xi in 2013, the Belt and Road project aims to connect Asia, Europe and Africa through a network of roads, railway lines, and ports.

The Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar (BCIM) is one of the planned corridors of this project.

Beijing had been keen on New Delhi joining the connectivity event.

India skipping the event, touted by Chinese media as one of the most important international events, could add to the already strained ties between the two nations.