China’s Ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, has asked New Delhi to join the One-Belt-One-Road project, assuring it that “the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would not impinge on anyone’s sovereign rights.” He even proposed changing the name of CPEC if it would alleviate India’s concerns and repeated Beijing’s assurances of neutrality. Comparing China-India relations to “two family members” having “some differences,” he said they could easily be resolved through amiable discussion. If New Delhi accepts Beijing’s offer, it has two options before it: join CPEC or go for a proposed northeastern connection.
In the past, India has objected to CPEC because of its ongoing bad blood with Pakistan, and its general trend to “pivot east” against China in tandem with the United States. Nonetheless, its connectivity with China is ongoing in three multi-state organizations: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), G20 and BRICS. With Pakistan it has taken issue with the status of Gilgit-Baltistan, through which CPEC passes. According to at least two U.N. resolutions on Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan is shown as part of the Valley; and the Pak-China border agreement of 1963 that ceded some territory to China contains an article recognizing its contingent status.
Pakistan has made attempts to separate Gilgit-Baltistan from disputed Kashmir to create a fifth northern province. It makes its case on the basis of “local people’s liberation struggle” in November 1947 “freeing Gilgit-Baltistan before the Kashmir issue went before the United Nations.” India’s position is that “Gilgit-Baltistan has an area of 72,000 sq. km and comprises about 85 percent of the total area of Azad Jammu & Kashmir” and therefore “does not form part of the territory of Pakistan.” On the other hand, Pakistani courts have rejected the Pakistan-administered Kashmir government’s claim on Gilgit-Baltistan and validated its special status outside Kashmir.
India’s “strategic” objection to China’s opening of yet another “string-of-pearls” port in Gwadar is predicated on perceived Chinese naval dominance of South Asia. The conundrum is: will India accept the Chinese invitation after its reconciliation with Pakistan; or will a China-India agreement on CPEC lead to India-Pakistan normalization?