Citing trade, Beijing seeks bigger role

KATHMANDU (TIP): The shadow of China seeking a greater role in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and its presence in the eight-member grouping could not be missed here as the 18th Summit got underway. Over the past few days, reports emerged about Beijing pushing the envelope on the issue and today leaders from Bangladesh, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka advocating a greater role for observers in the regional grouping. SAARC has Australia, China, European Union, Japan, South Korea, Mauritius, Mynamar and the USA as observers and since 2007 have been invited to attend the summit meeting.

Today as the summit opened, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif emphasised the importance of SAARC observers and the benefit the grouping can draw from its interactions with them. “We should build on convergences and minimise divergences and most of all seek to augment complimentaries for the greater good of the people of the region”, he said. Similar sentiments were expressed by leaders of Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka. While none of them mentioned China, on his part Deputy Foreign Minister of China Liu Zhenmin, who participated, underscored the role Beijing was playing in the region and prepared for a larger role.

He mentioned that while China’s trade in the countries of the region stood at $150 billion, the country has $ 30 billion investments in the pipeline, clearly underscoring the economic muscle of Beijing. While New Delhi has not made any move to counter it, India maintained that the priority among member-countries of SAARC should be to ensure cooperation among the eight countries instead of seeking to expand the grouping in a horizontal direction.

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