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India has not sent an official delegation to attend the “Belt and Road Forum” in Beijing and instead criticized China’s global initiative, warning of an”unsustainable debt burden” for countries involved.

President Xi has conceived and is currently advocating what China formally calls the “One Belt, One Road” or OBOR initiative to build a new Silk Road. This route will link Asia, Africa, and Europe, and is a landmark program which will lead to the investment of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids.

“Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities,” Baglay said.

The initiative is tipped to perch China on a pedestal where it will be able to expand its power profile. By contrast, India has boycotted the event despite Chinese attempts to cajole them into coming and telling them it as in harmony with Modi government’s ‘Act East Policy.’ Chinese State Daily, Global Times, has termed Indian transigence to join OBOR as regrettable but said it would not hamper ‘the trend toward cooperation in infrastructure development among its neighboring countries at all.’

Read more: “We can think about renaming CPEC” China offers India

Indian concerns on OBOR

MEA spokesman Gopal Baglay explained India’s absence from the well-attended event as India could not accept a project that compromised its sovereignty.

“No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Baglay said.

Ostensibly, India is concerned that CPEC passes through a region in what it calls as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), which is an infringement of its sovereignty. This 70 years long unresolved Kashmir dispute is now becoming part of another fast-developing conflagration.

The MEA spokesman, also while stressing on the need for regional connectivity criticized the sustainability of debts.

“Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create an unsustainable debt burden for communities,” Baglay said.

The Global Times rebuked Indian expression of fears for its neighboring countries and wrote ‘It is strange that the onlooker is more anxious than the players. While India cares about its neighbors’ debt burden, the neighbors appear willing to take on more.’

The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation kicked off over the weekend with an attendance by over 1,500 delegates from 130 countries, including 29 heads of state. Along with PM Nawaz Sharif, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte who were the star names on show, even North Korea sent a delegation.

Read more: Will Pakistan muddle through or will CPEC allow it to control its destiny?

Will India be left standing alone in the cold?

However, analysts opine that India is apprehensive of China’s increasing clout in the region. OBOR in its current form encompasses all of South Asia except India and Bhutan. China has launched connectivity initiatives and infrastructure projects during past three years in all regions where India has a stake.

In Pakistan, the two countries have signed further agreements during the summit of an additional $500m as well as agreeing on the implementation of the up gradation of ML1 and the establishment of Havelian Dry Port in Pakistan.

OBOR and its flagship, CPEC catapults Beijing in a position where it can expand its sphere of influence. India fears that it will have a secondary role in the venture; China’s increasing hegemony is a cause of concern for Delhi. Menacingly for India, China’s increased interest is backed up by robust steps. Besides iterating the need for speeding up CPEC completion, China signed a number of agreements for the very purpose with Pakistan and all other countries in South Asia and beyond.

Only last week, Nepal officially signed a deal with China to join the OBOR and is also in talks with China to build a cross-border rail link that may cost up to $8 billion.

In Pakistan, the two countries have signed further agreements during the summit of an additional $500m as well as agreeing on the implementation of the up gradation of ML1 and the establishment of Havelian Dry Port in Pakistan. The neighboring countries also signed a grant agreement on the Gwadar airport and a MoU on cooperation within the framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st century Maritime Silk Road Initiative.

Read more: Why China wants to ‘speed up’ CPEC’s construction?

Will India need to change its stance on OBOR?

The ongoing summit has garnered a positive response. CPEC and the Sino-Pak alliance is gaining much-needed strength. While signing MOUs the Pakistani Prime Minister reaffirmed his commitment to OBOR and CPEC. The new initiative has also managed to gain some traction from the US.

The Trump administration announced which initially aimed to send lower ranked officials to attend the meeting – upgraded its delegation participation by sending – Matt Pottinger, Special Assistant to the President and senior director for East Asia of National Security Council of the White House.

“Let me make it very clear that CPEC is an economic undertaking open to all countries in the region. It has no geographical boundaries. It must not be politicized,” PM Pakistan said.

“The United States recognizes the importance of China’s One Belt and One Road initiative and is to send delegates to attend the Belt and Road Forum May 14-15 in Beijing,” a joint statement by China’s finance and commerce ministries said.

India may increasingly find itself alone in the opposition of OBOR. However, it has been working hard to explain to the US state department why they should view it as a threat to their interests in the region.  PM Nawaz Sharif in his address categorically told India not to politicize the project as it is open for all.

“Let me make it very clear that CPEC is an economic undertaking open to all countries in the region. It has no geographical boundaries. It must not be politicized,” he said.

He further called upon building a peaceful neighborhood by doing away with differences. This must be a clear indication that Pakistan wants peace in the region and it wants to settle disputes with India.

“It is the time we transcend our differences, resolve conflicts through dialogue and diplomacy, and leave a legacy of peace for future generations,” he said.

Read more: The Middle-Eastern conflict: Threatening for Pakistan and China’s OBOR

With India and Pakistan again on a collision course, this offer from PM Nawaz Sharif must be taken in good spirit. India’s opposition to OBOR will likely to increase tensions in an already volatile environment. Trade and connectivity can defeat war and instability. Peace is a must and India has a major part to play. It has to shun its China bogey and involve itself in a project which can benefit people across nations.

Question for Discussion: Will Indian transigence on joining OBOR stop other countries in South Asia gaining as much as they can from this initiative?

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