Islamabad: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a first virtual joint conference with his counterparts from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal, on Monday, during which he outlined a four-point strategy to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, improve economic recovery and restore BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) infrastructure projects.
Afghanistan’s acting Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar and Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali attended the virtual meeting, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry press release.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi did not participate in the meeting. Pakistan was represented by Economic Affairs Minister Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar.
Addressing the meeting, which is the first involving the four countries, Wang proposed the four-point action plan including consolidating the consensus on unity and fight against the pandemic, avoiding politicisation and stigmatisation of the Coronavirus and firmly support the World Health Organisation (WHO) in playing its due role to jointly building global health community.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration officially told the United Nations of its intention to withdraw the US from the World Health Organization (WHO), cutting off relations with the global health agency amid the country’s ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
The US accused the WHO of joining China on the outbreak of Coronavirus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, arguing that the health agency deceived the world, killing more than half a million people worldwide, including more than 146,000 in America alone.
Wang said all the four countries should carry out regional cooperation on joint prevention and control of the pandemic drawing the experience of China and Pakistan, according to the press release.
He said that when the Chinese vaccine will be introduced, it will increase the accessibility of vaccines to the three countries and help them strengthen their public health systems.
Significantly, he also proposed post-pandemic, the four countries should resolutely support the joint development of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by promoting the resumption of work and production of key cooperation projects, maintain the stability of industrial and supply chains, and create new economic growth points in the digital field.
“We will actively promote the building of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Trans-Himalayan Connectivity network (THCN), support the extension of the corridor to Afghanistan, and further unleash the dividends of regional connectivity,” Wang said.
The BRI is a multi-billion-dollar initiative 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.
While $60 billion CPEC is the flagship project of the BRI, over which India has protested to China as it is being laid through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), the THCN aims to connect Nepal and China through Tibet.
“We should give play to our geographical advantages, strengthen exchanges and connectivity between the four countries and central Asian countries, and safeguard regional peace and stability,” Wang said.
His assertions are of relevance as they came in the midst of the border tensions between India and China. Pakistan and Nepal are both actively engaged in the development of major infrastructure projects under CPEC and THCN, which is creating considerable concern in New Delhi.
The ministers of Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan”actively supported” the four-point cooperation initiative proposed by Wang and thanked China for providing medical material assistance and food support, and shared experience in epidemic prevention and control, the statement said.
All parties supported the maintenance of multilateralism, strengthen the role of the WHO, backed the realisation of a ceasefire in Afghanistan during the epidemic, and the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan, it added.
Bakhtiar, who represented Pakistan in the conference, stressed that the participating counties should develop political consensus against COVID-19 and declare a united front to combat it.
He said that COVID-19 had inflicted a punitive human and economic cost globally and disrupted the social and political architecture of the world.
“Pakistan was ready to both enhance cooperation in combating COVID-19 and in post-pandemic economic recovery with the participating countries,” the minister said.
Bakhtiar said that the CPEC could play an important role in boosting regional growth and recovery in the post-COVID-19 period. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi did not participate but in a video message at the Conference he stressed the need for unity, solidarity and multilateral cooperation to fight COVID-19 pandemic.