China defends contentious CPEC, says it is economic initiative and has not affected its stand on Kashmir issue

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Beijing, May 24 (PTI) China on Monday again defended its controversial USD 60 billion CPEC project with Pakistan, disregarding India's protests as it is being laid through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, saying it is an economic initiative and has not affected its principled stand on the Kashmir issue.

Leaders of China and Pakistan have praised the progress of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in recent days as the two close allies celebrated the establishment of 70 years of their diplomatic relations.

India has protested to China over the CPEC, the flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as it traverses through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

The massive infrastructure project connects China’s Xinjiang province with Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

China has been defending the CPEC, saying it is an economic project not aimed at any third country.

Answering questions on the CPEC at a media briefing on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that 'since its launch, the CPEC, as an important pilot project of the BRI, has made significant and positive progress in such areas as transportation infrastructure, energy, ports and industrial parks”.

'At the same time, it is also actively reaching out to Afghanistan and other regional countries,' he said in updated comments on Chinese Foreign Ministry website.

Asked how China sees regional prosperity being furthered by the CPEC in view of India's position that it passes through Indian territory illegally occupied by Pakistan, Zhao said the project has not affected China's principled position on Kashmir.

'As for whether the CPEC involves the Kashmir issue, China has made it clear on many occasions that the CPEC is an economic cooperation initiative, which is not targeted at any third party, has nothing to do with disputes over territorial sovereignty, and will not affect China's principled position on the Kashmir issue,' he said.

On the CPEC's extension to Afghanistan, he said, 'as for China's discussions with Afghanistan and other third parties on extending the CPEC, I can tell you that China, Pakistan and Afghanistan have been in communication through diplomatic and other channels'.

'We have also noted that Afghanistan imports and exports relevant goods through Gwadar and Karachi ports. The three parties are discussing the extension of the highway and expressway in Pakistan to Afghanistan,' he said.

In a message to his Pakistani counterpart Arif Alvi on Friday on the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the China-Pakistan diplomatic relations, President Xi Jinping said the CPEC has achieved remarkable results.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said at a high-level meeting in Islamabad that the CPEC will bring economic progress not only to Pakistan but the entire region. PTI KJV ZH AKJ ZH ZH