Modi takes aim at China, Pakistan as ties hit low points

He says nations must stop supporting terror and start respecting territorial sovereignty

NEW DELHI • Taking a swipe at both Pakistan and China, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said countries needed to stop supporting terrorism and start respecting territorial sovereignty.

India will not hold talks with Pakistan as long as it keeps supporting terrorism, he added.

In a likely reference to Pakistan, he said countries in the region that export terrorism stand "isolated and ignored". "India alone cannot walk the path of peace, it also has to be Pakistan's journey to make," Mr Modi said at a forum in New Delhi on Tuesday. "Pakistan must walk away from terror if it wants to walk towards dialogue with India."

Mr Modi made a rare, veiled reference to Beijing's US$46 billion (S$65 billion) investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, which passes through parts of the disputed Kashmir region that are administered by Pakistan but claimed by India.

The remarks come after the failure of Mr Modi's attempts to soothe ties with Pakistan and China over the last 21/2 years, and at a time when India-China relations are at a new low point. They also come ahead of several crucial state polls in India, where Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party is campaigning in part on the administration's tough stance on Pakistan.

India-Pakistan ties worsened last September when Indian soldiers struck across the de facto border that divides the Pakistan- and India-administered parts of Kashmir. The military strike was in response to a terrorist attack that killed 19 Indian soldiers.

Mr Modi said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed to tap the vast business opportunities that exist between their countries. But he also referred to simmering strategic tensions between India and China. He said "it is not unnatural for two large neighbouring powers to have some differences", and suggested that both countries "need to show sensitivity and respect for each other's core concerns".

In particular, he appeared to make a veiled reference to Beijing's investment in CPEC. The infrastructure corridor stretches from China's far-west Xinjiang province through the disputed region of Kashmir, before ending at the Pakistan port of Gwadar.

India has partnered Iran and Afghanistan to develop a strategic port on the Iranian coast. "We appreciate the compelling logic of regional connectivity for peace, progress and prosperity," Mr Modi said. "However, equally, connectivity in itself cannot override or undermine the sovereignty of other nations. Only by respecting the sovereignty of countries involved, can regional connectivity corridors fulfil their promise and avoid differences and discord."

India-China relations are at a low point over China's One Belt, One Road initiative, as well as Beijing's attempt to block New Delhi's bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, said research fellow Shashank Joshi at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Mr Modi's remarks were part of a concerted Indian effort to portray China's investment in South Asia as "unilateral, heavy-handed and overbearing", Mr Joshi said, noting that no other country thinks the project is impinging on their sovereignty "and many are enthusiastic for Chinese investment".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2017, with the headline 'Modi takes aim at China, Pakistan as ties hit low points'. Print Edition | Subscribe