The Chinese Communist Party doesn’t like criticism.
We have seen this well demonstrated in the way its leaders testily sanction anyone who dares suggest that their internment of the Uighur Muslims is “genocide,” which doesn’t do much to signal to the global community that they’re open to accountability on this point, but certainly indicates that they do not want to be questioned as to how they choose to suppress their ethnic and religious minorities, thank you very much.
So when an Indian diplomat’s microphone cut out when she was in the middle of criticizing China’s Belt and Road Initiative during a United Nations conference hosted by China in Beijing, it was hard not to interpret the event as rather suspicious at best.
Priyanka Sohoni, the second secretary of India’s embassy to China, was in the middle of delivering pointed criticism of the Belt and Road Initiaitve and its encroachments on Indian sovereignty in the disputed territory of Kashmir when she experienced some rather interestingly timed technological difficulties at the United Nations Sustainable Transport Conference, which took place Oct. 14-16.
“As far as China’s Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, is concerned, we are uniquely affected by it. Its inclusion of the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as a flagship project infringes on India’s national sovereignty,” Sohoni was saying before her microphone cut out.
“They must follow principles of openness, transparency, and financial responsibility, and be…” she continued before her voice abruptly faded away and she appeared to realize her microphone was no longer on.
At this point, according to the Indian online news outlet The Print, there was reported confusion at the conference as another speaker’s video began to play. However, UN under-secretary-general Liu Zhenmin, China’s former vice foreign minister, subsequently stopped that video, apologized to attendees, and urged Sohoni to continue her speech from where she left off, which she did.
“Dear participants, we are sorry. We are confronting some technical problems and played the video of the next speaker. I am sorry for that,” Liu said, according to The Print. He then addressed Sohani. “You are lucky. You are back and welcome back.”
“We share the international community’s desire for enhancing physical connectivity and believe it should bring greater economic benefits to all in an equitable and balanced manner,” Sohoni said after continuing where she had left off.
As The Print explained, India has been vocally objecting to an economic corridor that is being developed in the Pakistan-occupied area of the Kashmir region, which has been disputed by India and Pakistan for decades. It is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s multi-billion-dollar infrastructure plan to essentially reopen and modernize the historic Silk Road.
According to The Print, China has been largely downplaying India’s concerns, maintaining that the economic corridor will not affect China’s “principled stand on the Kashmir issue.”
The Belt and Road Initiative is certainly far more than simply laying down roads — it has also turned out to be a system through which China is hooking economically unstable nations into impossible-to-repay debt, resulting in significant leverage for China.
In the case of Sri Lanka, for instance, the island nation in the Indian Ocean has been forced to lease out one of its ports to a Chinese company for 99 years.
Sohani noted during her speech that “there are also larger issues regarding how connectivity initiatives should be pursued.”
“We are of the firm belief that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognized international norms,” she said, according to The Print.
“They must follow principles of openness, transparency, and financial responsibility and be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty, equality, and territorial integrity of nations. India for its part abides by these principles and stands ready to make collective efforts for sustainable development through a human-centric approach.”
The Print also noted that, prior to Sohani’s speech, a Pakistani diplomat had praised the Belt and Road Initiative, and Chinese President Xi Jinping himself touted the Belt and Road Initiative during a speech on the opening day of the conference.
“China’s door of opening-up will only open wider, and will never be closed. China will continue to advance high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, strengthen infrastructure connectivity with other countries, and develop a green Silk Road and a digital Silk Road at a faster pace,” he said.
In what sources cited by The Print said could have been a breach of diplomatic protocol, Sohani’s speech also received some personal feedback from the Chinese transport minister, Li Xiaopeng.
At first, Li apologized for the “glitches” that cut Solhani off right as she was sticking it to the nation’s questionable infrastructure expansion, but then went on to implicitly criticize her.
“I would like to extend my apologies for the technical glitch just now when the Indian delegate spoke,” Li said.
“I don’t want to be offensive. Just now you have mentioned a lot of topics. As for the topics you mentioned, I would like to make some complements,” he continued.
“The BRI is open and inclusive,” he stated, according to The Print. “We tried to improve the connectivity and seek the development of all countries. In the past eight years, all the international communities have welcomed this initiative. Up to now about 141 countries and 32 organizations have signed more than 200 agreements with China.”
“A lot of important and practical projects have been implemented, which includes a lot of important transport projects. I would like to invite all parties to contribute to the development of this project,” the minister stated, according to The Print.
It’s certainly possible that Sohani’s microphone did genuinely experience technical difficulties, but the incident still gave the appearance that someone was trying to undermine her pointed speech.
Again, China does not like criticism, and the way that the Communist Chinese Party mentality works, it would be entirely in line with its tactics to seek to shut her down and embarrass her right when she got to the crux of her arguments against China’s economic activities in Kashmir.
The fact that this took place in Beijing itself doesn’t ease suspicion either.
Modern-day China has demonstrated itself to be entirely ruthless in its quest to satisfy Xi’s vision of a great and glorious nation, capable of surpassing all others on the world stage economically … and perhaps militarily and culturally as well.
Chinese leaders will stop at nothing to shut down anyone who questions them, so it’s certainly easy to believe they’d do so in the middle of a diplomatic conference.
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