Monday 20th of May 2024

China’s Belt & Road and India’s Objections
Sanjay Pardhan
Region : India, North East Asia, Chaina,
Issue : Security,
On May 14 and 15, China hosted a two-day Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, which was attended by high level delegations from around the world that included 29 heads of state.
What is OBOR?
OBOR is a Chinese strategic and economic initiative to connect Eurasia, Africa and Oceania through a combination of an overland and maritime route. The initiative is aimed at resurrecting the ancient Silk Road through infrastructure projects to link the Eurasian economies within a China-centered investment and trade network. The ‘Belt’ refers to three overland routes originating in China. One, from China, through South-East Asia and South Asia to the Indian Ocean; two, starting in China and going through central and West Asia to the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea; and three, again from China, through central Asia to Europe and Russia. The three routes involve the creation of six economic cooperation corridors involving territories in 25 different nations. The ‘Road’ is the old Silk Road, rejuvenated to fit 21st century purposes by bifurcating the old trade route. First is a maritime route from China to Europe through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean and second is one that connects China to the Pacific Islands, charted from the South China Sea to the Southern Pacific Ocean. OBOR is an ambitious project that encompasses trade, energy and transportation projects, which when finished, will connect 64 countries with 15 Chinese provinces. The fundamental premise that underpins the entire initiative is the assumption that China will continue to be the manufacturing hub of the world and that its products will continue to be exported in a global scale. This belief could also prove to be the Achilles’ heel to the entire project, which is enormous in its scale.
China’s Views
India's refusal to join China's "Belt and Road Forum" also known as 'One Belt, One Road' was "partly a show" for domestic politics and aimed at piling pressure to get Beijing's "special attention". the absence of New Delhi in the B&R has not affected the forum in Beijing, and it will exert even less effect on the progress the initiative will make in the world”. National newspaper said that if India sees itself as a big power, it should get accustomed to the many divergences with China, and try to manage these divergences with China.
India’s Objections
There are a number of reasons for India’s obvious unease at the OBOR initiative. First and foremost is the CPEC, meant as a transportation and energy network that will eventually connect the Chinese-built Pakistani port at Gwadar with Kashgar in Xinjiang Province in Western China. This corridor passes through the ‘Pakistan occupied/administered’ part of Kashmir that India claims as its sovereign territory. Obviously India views the project as directly impinging on its territorial integrity, especially since India has not been consulted before establishing the project. There is a certain amount of wariness on the part of China regarding India’s objections. China has attempted to diffuse the situation by stating that it will not get involved in territorial disputes that must be sorted out bilaterally. It is difficult to envisage how China’s stance will work, if the project is to go forward. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that once China has invested a critical mass in the corridor, it will be a resource-asset that, realistically, China will want to protect. Second is that India perceives the OBOR as a unilateral initiative being pursued by China, whereas India has followed a multi-lateral approach to building trust and confidence within the region. There is an undercurrent within the Indian policy establishment which thinks that China does not respect or even consider India’s sensitivities and concerns vis-à-vis its relations with the smaller nations of both South and South-East Asia. India believes that peace and stability brought about through mutual trust and steady interactions is the only long term solution to the myriad differences that plague the region. An acceptable level of trust is lacking at the moment and a unilateral initiative will only increase the tensions. The third reason is that India has grave concerns regarding the ability of the host countries to pay back the large loans that are being given by China for these nations to undertake the huge infrastructure projects that are being envisaged. Further, there is also the methodology of the utilization of these loans, which are at least nominally meant to benefit the host nation.
A clear example, already visible, is the loan that has been given to Pakistan to build their energy infrastructure. The ‘aid’ in terms of loans being given to Pakistan will be used by Chinese companies that employ only Chinese labor to construct power plants that will be owned, managed and operated by Chinese companies. The power generated by these companies will be sold to Pakistan. The benefit for the Pakistan economy or the general population in this equation is difficult to fathom. Simply put, China is creating business opportunities for Chinese companies in the guise of soft developmental loans to other nations. In stark terms this can be labelled economic colonization that leaves no exit route for the smaller economies who are the recipients of such ‘largesse’. The fourth reason is that China has not considered the sovereignty claims of nations regarding the territories through which the infrastructure projects are being developed. Control of some of these territories are disputed by two or more nations. India’s stand is that all parties must agree on the developmental or construction process through a consultative process and not as a follow-up to an arbitrary decision. India judges that the current situation is one that will fuel increasing competition between nations. Its stated position and advocacy is that the kind of connectivity that China is proposing should diffuse rivalries, not increase the tensions in the region. The OBOR initiative is seen as pitting nations of the region against each other. Even so, India has to carefully engage in the broader initiative for three very valid reasons. First is that the smaller nations of the region are supportive of the initiative since it provides a guarantee for their own on-going development. Whether or not this will prove to be a double-edged sword cannot be determined at this stage in the development of the scheme. Therefore, India’s unilateral rejection of the scheme will be seen as detrimental to the progress of an initiative that promises to benefit all participants, at least outwardly till now. In turn, such an attitude has the potential to isolate India in the region at a point in time when India is undertaking a concerted diplomatic endeavor to become a regional power by consensus. Second is based on the fact that the OBOR initiative will not work effectively without India’s participation, primarily because of the size of its economy and geographic location. Therefore, India will be able to engage on its own terms in the scheme and bring to bear positive influence in the development work that will be undertaken. It is always more beneficial to be working for change from the inside rather than being in opposition outside the loop. The third reason stems from the second. India will be able to bring the necessary transparency to the entire project, something that is lacking at this stage. The client states are in awe of Chinese power, its economic clout and the covert pressure that China can bring to bear to achieve its objectives. India could become the bulwark against the subtle ‘bullying’ that will definitely take place as the initiative matures. This is an opportunity for India to further its ambitions of becoming a regional power. India must engage, but with clarity about the red lines that it must draw regarding the sovereignty of its territories.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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