China Quietly Deletes Ambassador's Offer to 'Rename CPEC' From Embassy Website

Less than a day after making an offer to rename the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to allay Indian concerns about Beijing's wider One Belt, One Road initiative, the Chinese side appears to have quietly dropped the idea.

A publicity image for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Credit: Daily Pakistan

New Delhi: After reports appeared that China had offered to consider renaming the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to meet Indian concerns, the sentence referring to the proposal has disappeared from Ambassador Luo Zhaohui’s speech on the Chinese embassy website.

On Monday, The Wire first published a report on the proposal made by the Chinese envoy to India in a speech made to the United Service Institution on May 5.

China had been recently stepped it’s up efforts to persuade India and Indian public opinion to join the Belt-Road Initiative  summit in Beijing on May 14-15, which was to be attended by nearly 28 heads of state. With that background, Luo’s speech had dwelled largely on the benefits for India to join its flagship strategic initiative.

India’s concerns about CPEC – which is a key part of Beijing’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) Initiative – has been fuelled by the route of the corridor which starts in Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of Kashmir that been under Pakistani occupation.

Asserting that CPEC is only for promoting economic cooperation and would have no impact on sovereignty issues, Luo had tried to sweeten the deal for India, at least, cosmetically. “Even we can think about renaming the CPEC,” he said. This was the first time ever that a Chinese official had publicly talked of re-naming $51 billion CPEC project, which Islamabad views as a “gamechanger” and a guarantee against being isolated even if the West ratchets up economic pressure to stop its support for certain terror groups.

Screenshot of Ambassador Luo’s original speech

The text of the article had been first posted on the website of the Chinese embassy on Sunday. A screenshot of the relevant paragraph was tweeted by this correspondent at 11.54 pm on May 7 with the relevant sentence, highlighted.

Following The Wire’s report on the morning of May 8, other publications also reported the offer.

However, when the embassy website page for the speech was checked again on May 8 evening, the eight-word sentence was missing. The rest of the 2900 plus words of the speech were intact.

Now you see it, now you don’t: The words highlighted were subsequently deleted from the Chinese embassy website. Credit: The Wire

The Wire has confirmed from attendees of the speech at USI that the Chinese envoy had largely read out from a text for his speech, in which he had said that Beijing could look into changing the nomenclature of CPEC. In fact, one of those present, who spoke on condition of anonymity since the event was meant to be a closed-door one, said the line in question was part of the text of the ambassador’s speech that the embassy had given to USI in advance.

A retired Indian diplomat, who was part of the audience, said that Luo’s proposal certainly did not seem like a passing whim. “The re-naming suggestion was flagged several times. It was mentioned at least four times by him during the discussion, including as part of the speech,” he said.

Ambassador an old India hand

Ambasasdor Lui Zhaohui. Credit: Couvrette/Ottawa

Luo, who is highly regarded as a career diplomat, is apparently part of a rare breed in the Chinese foreign service who identify themselves as an ‘India-hand’. During his talk, which went on more than two hours, Luo noted that his baptism as a junior diplomat began with his witnessing the historic visit by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China in 1988.

During his tenure at Chinese foreign office’s counter terrorism department, Luo had helped to restart the stalled India-China bilateral working group on terrorism, which had met rather frequently in 2011 and 2012, according to the retired Indian diplomat. This dialogue process had ensured that India participated as an observer at China’s counter-terror exercise in its restive Xinjiang province in 2012.

Having spent some time in New Delhi in the initial part of his diplomatic life, Luo also proudly recounts that his wife, Jiang Yili is the first Chinese national to obtain a doctorate from Delhi University.

The mystery of the ‘missing proposal’, made at a closed door event, could perhaps have been to test the waters carefully – and perhaps, withdrawn after there was not a great reception from the Indian side. It was also suggested that the choice of USI, rather than other private think-tanks, as the venue to make this offer was significant.

There had been no official comment made during by the Indian government on the Chinese officer.

Another theory is that the proposal could have been removed after a rap on the knuckles from Beijing, with the suggestion being that it was an entirely an initiative from Luo.

The Wire was not able to obtain an explanation from the Chinese embassy for the redaction of the ambassador’s speech till the time of of publication.

Pakistani reactions to renaming offer

On Tuesday, the Pakistani newspaper, The News cited “highly placed diplomatic sources” to say that the Chinese envoy was being “sarcastic”.

Another Pakistani media group, Pakistan Today, reported that “officials from the Ministry of Planning and Development have written a letter to Chinese officials at the China Embassy in Islamabad over a controversial statement in New Delhi by Chinese official”