India has declined China’s invitation to attend the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI) which is scheduled to take place later this month in China. This is for the second time that India has turned down the invite for participating in the BRI forum. India had spurned the invitation earlier in 2017. This year representatives from over 100 countries including about 40 leaders of governments are likely to attend the 2nd Belt and Road Forum.
India is of the view that inclusion of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which passes through parts of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir under illegal occupation of Pakistan, as a flagship programme of the Belt and Road Initiative reflects lack of understanding and sensitivity to India’s concerns on the issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity. These concerns have been raised with China at various levels on different occasions. The CPEC is a conglomeration of infrastructure projects meant to deepen economic ties between China and Pakistan. The CPEC will connect China’s largest province Xinjiang with Pakistan’s Gwadar port in Balochistan.
India’s firm view is that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognised international norms, good governance, and rule of law, openness, transparency and equality. They must follow principles of financial responsibility and must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity.
It may be recalled that in May 2017, while articulating its position on BRI, India had said that it shares the international community’s desire for enhancing physical connectivity and believes that it should bring greater economic benefits to all in an equitable and balanced manner. High lighting India’s benign connectivity outreach in the region, the statement further added, “expansion and strengthening of connectivity is an integral part of India’s economic and diplomatic initiatives.” Under the ‘Act East’ Policy, India is pursuing a Trilateral Highway project. India is also developing multimodal linkages with Myanmar and Bangladesh. Under the ‘go west’ strategy New Delhi is also engaged with Iran on the Chabahar Port and with other partners in Central Asia on developing the International North South Corridor (INSC).
When India took its principled and courageous position on China’s BRI, it didn’t find many supporters then, but now, there is an increasing awareness about the possible adverse consequences of projects under China’s BRI. There is greater realisation in recent times that China’s projects in the region are not necessarily financially viable and environmentally sustainable. Some countries have been pushed to debt-trap. Maldives, for example, has become a victim of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative leaving the archipelago with massive debts. The Belt and Road projects have been seen as an enormous debt trap despite China’s assurances to the contrary. Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port is yet another example of bad financial dealing. Malaysia and some other countries have also experienced similar ordeals. Even in Pakistan where China has invested in projects around $ 46 billion, there are fears that the country will become an economic colony of China.
While India has made its position clear and consistent with regard to China’s Belt and Road Initiative; India and China should pursue the developmental partnership between the two countries through the dictum of the ‘Astana consensus ‘of June 2017. As per this, the two countries have decided that their ties should become a factor for regional and global stability and that the two countries shall ensure that their differences do not become disputes. It would not be out of place to mention that China should join the International Solar Alliance (ISA) which India has established in partnership with France. This, according to Gautam Bambawale, India’s former Ambassador to China, will create a win-win situation and provide an excellent example of the two countries working together at international level.
Script: Dr. Rupa Narayan Das, Strategic Analyst on China