China has sought to play down concerns over the situation in Balochistan and the impact on its ambitious economic corridor plan, after several strategic experts in Beijing expressing concern over Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reference to the strife-hit region.
The PM's remarks triggered concerns in China's strategic community with some suggesting this could herald attempts by India to 'destabilise' the region. Pakistan has long accused India of doing so but failed to provide any evidence.
China's concerns primarily revolve around its $46-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) plan that runs from its western Xinjiang region to the Gwadar Arabian Sea port in Balochistan.
India has expressed objections to the plan as the CPEC runs through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region, which India sees as an integral part of Jammu & Kashmir.
A number of Chinese security experts have pointed to the PM's remarks as suggesting India might look to 'destabilise' the corridor in unrest-hit Balochistan where Pakistan has been brutally suppressing a rebellion and protests against its rule. They have warned of this 'damaging' India-China relations or even triggering a counter response from China.
Asked about how Beijing viewed the situation in Balochistan, the Chinese foreign ministry told India Today in an emailed statement that in its view the CPEC was "widely supported" by the people in China and Pakistan including Balochistan.
"The CPEC is a consensus reached by the Chinese and Pakistani governments, is of great significance to enhance connectivity and pragmatic cooperation in economy and trade between the two countries, and is widely supported by their people," the ministry said.
"Currently, China and Pakistan have, regarding building the corridor, established a good mechanism of communication and coordination, related programmes are being implemented smoothly, and the corridor has entered the stage of full implementation."
The foreign ministry said China "appreciates Pakistan's work and takes confidence for the future of the corridor" and that China "would like to join with Pakistan to promote building the corridor advance continuously, so as to spread the benefit of the corridor among the peoples".
Chinese experts alarmed
Beijing's statement comes as many Chinese strategic experts have expressed alarm at the PM's remarks.
"If India interferes with the building of the CPEC, it will not be good for bilateral ties," warned Liu Zongyi, a senior fellow at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies and a prominent South Asia strategic scholar.
At the same time, he told India Today, speaking in his personal capacity, that he did not think India or Baloch groups had the means to drastically alter the security situation there.
"The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is maybe 500-strong, they can't make too much trouble. The Pakistan Army has taken stringent measures," added Liu.
Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif has taken an increasingly prominent role in affairs relating to the corridor and has looked to assuage Beijing's concerns by pledging the army's support to ensure safety of Chinese personnel.
Hu Shisheng, a leading strategic expert at the China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), added that if "India even wants to make some troubles to CPEC, indicated by the Prime Minister's Red Fort Speech, China-India relations will inevitably be damaged badly. This is really a big concern. It will not serve any countries' interests in this region."