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The Evolution of China's BRI and India's Role in the SCO: An Analysis
Ajay Mohan
2023-07-08
Region : South Asia, India, China, Economy,
Issue : Security,
Introduction
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In 2013, Xi Jinping introduced the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a comprehensive plan for physical infrastructure development involving roads, ports, and powerhouses. However, in 2017, Xi Jinping expanded the BRI by introducing the concept of the Digital Silk Road, focusing on cyberspace connectivity and software development. This move aimed to bring about the third and fourth industrial revolutions, emphasizing hardware connectivity through fiber optic and submarine cables, and software connectivity through artificial intelligence and big data. The BRI gained endorsement from the United Nations, aligning it with the organization's 17 sustainable development goals.

India's Approach to the Belt and Road Initiative
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India, a member of the SCO since 2017, has taken a distinct stance regarding the BRI. Firstly, India has refused to sign the economic development strategy for 2030 i.e China's 2030 economic development strategy focuses on high-quality growth through innovation, sustainable development, and technological advancement. The goal is to shift from a manufacturing-based economy to an innovation-driven one, nurturing emerging sectors like AI, biotechnology, and clean energy. Citing concerns about China's influence and a desire to maintain its own voice in the global south. India believes it can achieve common prosperity independently and is supported by G-20 nations in this endeavor. Secondly, India has consistently criticized the BRI, arguing that it leads to debt traps and raises territorial disputes, particularly in relation to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. India's reservations stem from the belief that endorsing the BRI would result in accepting China's leadership in infrastructure development, which India is unable to match. Only except of India and Bhutan in South Asia all the other countries they are on the board the BRI.

India's Role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
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Connectivity remained a key focus area during the SCO meeting, with an emphasis on infrastructure development and digital connectivity. Member states pledged to collaborate on the implementation of various connectivity initiatives, including transportation networks, energy projects, and digital infrastructure. These initiatives aimed to improve connectivity and facilitate the seamless movement of goods, services, and ideas within the SCO region. The leaders highlighted the transformative potential of connectivity in promoting economic development and regional integration. But it seems Prime Minister Modi diverge from the connectivity projects endorsed by other SCO members. Instead, he highlighted initiatives such as the Chabahar Port and the North-South Transport Corridor, bypassing Pakistan, China, and Central Asian republics and Russia. However, India's ability to align itself solely with Iran and not with other SCO members like Russia and China remains questionable.

India's Focus on Counterterrorism
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The SCO meeting also provided a platform for member states to address shared security concerns. Discussions centered on counter-terrorism, extremism, and transnational crime. Member states reaffirmed their commitment to intelligence sharing, joint military exercises, and coordinated efforts to combat these challenges effectively. The leaders stressed the importance of a comprehensive approach to address the root causes of terrorism and promote regional security and stability. In this meeting India has been vocal about terrorism, particularly cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Actually, terrorism is the military strategy of Pakistan which unfortunately has been successful since 1990. As well as, India’s approach to countering terrorism has focused more on military operations rather than building credible military capabilities. India's inability to effectively address the issue of terrorism and strengthen its military capabilities has hindered progress in the India-China relationship.

India's Changing Dynamics with China
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The recent visit of Prime Minister Modi to the United States has further strained India-China relations. India's strategic autonomy is at stake as it engages in agreements such as the ship repair agreement with the United States, which could lead to de-facto military bases in Indian shipyards. However, Americans face a challenge since all the shipyards and dockyards in India, except Vizag (Hindustan Shipyard), are being considered for this purpose. The presence of Russian nuclear assets in Vizag adds complexity to the situation. This move indicates a shift towards the American orbit, impacting India's strategic autonomy and complicating efforts to normalize relations with China.
Future Implications: India’s Role in the SCO
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When the last time Xi Jinping met Prime Minister Modi that China will support India’s presidency of SCO and the G-20 but unfortunately India media not much talk about the SCO meeting, media more talk about the G-20 and Global South. India's balancing act within the SCO will become increasingly challenging as its alignment with the United States grows stronger, India-China relations remain strained, and India-Pakistan relations stagnate. China may face difficulties accepting India as a member if these dynamics persist. Additionally, India's influence within the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) framework could be compromised if more countries join, making it harder for India to steer the bloc's agenda. The prospects for improved U.S.-China relations are uncertain, further complicating India's position within the SCO. Actually , Modi is not very keen to personally meet Xi Jinping otherwise Xi Jinping definitely come to India to attend the SCO physical meeting.

Conclusion
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India's reservations about the Belt and Road Initiative and its growing alignment with the United States have strained its relationship with China. India's divergent approach to connectivity projects within the SCO and its focus on countering terrorism has created challenges for normalizing relations. As India moves further into the American orbit, its role within the SCO and its ability to maintain strategic autonomy face significant implications. The evolving dynamics between India, China, and the SCO require careful consideration of their long-term consequences.
Ajay Mohan is Director- Foreign Observer Research India (FORE INDIA)
The views expressed above belong to the author(s)

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