Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said on Wednesday that China is ready to further deepen cooperation, elevate relations with Saarc and contribute to peace, stability and prosperity in South Asia.
The official Chinese view comes at a time when some member states in Saarc have proposed to elevate China as a dialogue or strategic partner from its present status of observer. While the ongoing 18th Saarc Summit is unlikely to take any decision on China, serious discussions have already started among the member states to give a greater role to China.
Liu, leading a Chinese delegation to the summit, recalled Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Maldives, Sri Lanka and India, opening a new chapter of good neighbourhood, friendship and cooperation.
During his visit, President Xi put forward a series of cooperation initiatives towards South Asian countries, including increasing Chinese trade with South Asia to $150 billion; investment to the tune of $30 billion in the next five years and pledged $20 billion in concessional loans. China also offered to provide 10,000 scholarships; 5,000 training opportunities and an exchange and training programme for 5,000 youths; training for 5,000 Chinese language teachers in those countries and to implement the China-South Asia Partnership Initiative for Science and Technology.
“We look forward to Saarc countries’ active participation in these cooperation programmes. We believe they will lend a fresh impetus to China-Saarc relations,” he said during his address to the summit on Wednesday. He also announced another Chinese donation worth $550,000 to the Saarc Development Fund this year in support of Saarc capacity-building.
China has put forward a host of regional cooperation initiatives, including Economic Belt of Silk Road, 21st century maritime Silk Road, Community of common destiny between China and Asean, China-Pakistan economic corridor, the BCIM (Bangladesh,China,India and Myanmar) Economic Corridor and the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank. It recently announced the establishment of a $40 billion Silk Road Fund.
“We hope these initiatives can help facilitate the joint efforts of all of our neighbouring countries to deepen practical cooperation, promote integration through opening-up and advance development amidst integration,” said Liu in a statement.
Other observers pledge support
Addressing the summit, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal said that the United States wants to see South Asia as a transparent and accountable region.
“Transparent and accountable South Asia alone could counter more effectively the adversities like terrorism, corruption and socio-economic problems,” she said, emphasising on better connectivity within and outside the region. Representatives from Australia, Japan, EU, South Korea, Iran, Myanmar and Mauritius also pledged support for Saarc.