Virtual meeting of 3 South Asian nations & China hints at new regional alignments
Foreign ministers of China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal on Monday held a virtual conference to discuss the Covid-19 situation with focus on economic recovery by boosting cooperation, in a move being seen against the backdrop of new regional alignments.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted the conference. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s pre-recorded statement was played during the meeting since he couldn’t attend the session due to his preoccupation with other issues. Economic Affairs Minister Khusro Bakhtiar represented Pakistan at the quadrilateral meeting.
Officials said the ministers held an in-depth exchange of views on strengthening anti-epidemic cooperation and boosting economic recovery as the neighbouring countries fight the pandemic on an ongoing basis.
Qureshi, in his pre-recorded statement, thanked his Chinese counterpart for hosting the important meeting on Covid-19. He said the virtual conference would help the four nations develop a joint strategy to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
The meeting is seen as significant in the sense that China in recent weeks has been increasingly taking the lead in dealing with the pandemic by reaching out to regional countries. Interestingly, India is absent from these regional initiatives, indicating new realignment.
India’s relationship with its neighbours has seen a dip in recent months. Pakistan is its known rival but New Delhi’s ties with Nepal, Bangladesh and Iran have suffered major blows. China is the common factor behind this shift.
Nepal, which was not long ago seen as more of an extension of India, is now at loggerheads with New Delhi over border dispute. The current Nepal government took an unusually tough stance over border issues with India.
The Nepalese parliament recently passed a new map, laying claims on territories currently controlled by India. New Delhi accused Beijing for being behind the assertiveness of Nepal.
Similarly, Bangladesh is also moving away from India. The situation between the two countries is so bad that Bangladeshi Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina even refused to meet the Indian high commissioner despite her repeated requests for last four months.
Indian-funded projects are also witnessing a slow down as China has been making inroads in Bangladesh. This has opened an opportunity for Pakistan to mend its ties with Bangladesh. Recently Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke to her Shaikh Hasina in a rare high-level contact between the two countries in years.
Observers believe that China’s outreach has by default helped Pakistan to reset ties with certain regional countries, including Bangladesh. Pakistan is also now looking to deepen ties with Nepal as Kathmandu is slowly coming out of the Indian influence.
Monday’s virtual meeting suggested that China was planning to help these countries in quick economic recovery against the backdrop of Covid-19. In return, this would help China reshape the regional dynamics, much to the discomfort of India and its western allies.