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OPINION: India shouldn’t join OBOR until issues of CPEC clear

Background:

  • The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is China’s ambitious project for increasing connectivity and economic cooperation within Eurasia. OBOR strategy is often reported as China’s ambitious push to take a bigger role in global affairs and expand its friend circle

India’s present stand on OBOR:

  • Its principal objection was that CPEC passed through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK)
  • The ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ violates India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

 

Why India should not join OBOR:-

  • OBOR seems to be primarily driven by broad geostrategic and geopolitical aim.
    • CPEC will provide China strategic access to the Arabian Seaand enhance its presence in the region.
    • It would enable China to wield much more powerful influence in the Indian Ocean.
    • Kashmir:-
      • Once completed, CPEC project would mean that the Chinese presence in entire Pakistan including Pakistan Occupied Kashmir becomes all pervasive and powerful.
      • The route of CPEC passes through POK and makes China an indirect stakeholder in Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan.
    • OBOR is a unilateral ideational of China and there is a lack of transparency in its working. The process is not participatory and collaborative in nature.
    • String of pearls:-
      • Under Maritime Silk Route (MSR) China is developing ports in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan and is trying to enlarge its influence using its economic might in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.
      • Thus MSR is nothing but an economic disguise to the “Strings of Pearls” Theory. China is investing a huge amount of money in India’s immediate neighbourhood and these countries tend to use the China card against India.
    • Through OBOR, China is countering the strategies of India in North East region and is promoting its greater presence in North East India, part of which China claims as its own territory. This may have a security impact on India.
    • Tense bilateral relations with China, deep mistrusts and India’s growing concerns over Chinese hegemonic intentions in South Asia and Indo-Pacific region make it practically unlikely that India will ever consider joining this project.
    • Military deployment:
      • The fact that the Chinese have begun to deploy 30,000 security personnel to protect the projects along the CPEC route makes it an active player in the politics of the Indian sub-continent. Clearly, this is a case of double standards.

 

Why India should join :-

  • India will not be able to stop China in carrying on this initiative nor can it stop its neighbours from joining this initiative. So whether India joins this initiative or not, the project will take place and not join may harm India’s interests.
  • India may become isolated in this regionsince all of its neighbours (except Bhutan) have joined One Belt One Road. Leaving any regional platform may hamper India’s credentials and may hasten the end of its regional hegemony.
  • Some analysts say that this initiative will be a win-win situation for India since it will increase the connectivity of the region. There may emerge mutually beneficial swap where India protecting Chinese interests in the Indian Ocean and China securing India’s essential undertakings in their part of the waters.
  • Regional transport, energy security, and blue economy are key to OBOR initiative which will be helpful for India.
  • Some analysts feel that countries like Russia and others in SCO would want Indian participation in OBOR as a counterweight to Chinese influence.
  • Regardless of economic interests, India cannot ignore the symbolic significance as it was along the Silk Route that Indian trade and philosophy (Buddhism) travelled to the rest of Asia. Thus, China may gain cultural hegemony in the region which may prove counter-productive to India.
  • China has the financial capital, technology to accelerate the development of other countries and India also need resources and funds for its own development.
  • The initiative could be seen as viable, particularly given that many of the projects envisaged under the BCIM (Bangladesh China India Myanmar) corridor and the Asian Highway project would dovetail into OBOR
  • Trade:
    • The OBOR project will open more links of trade between India and other countries. Further, India does not enjoy much leverage to guide ocean trade markets despite having proximity to the sea and a strong navy.
    • Through OBOR project India will get access to more business in an environment which promote friendly reforms.

Way forward:-

  • India need to come up with a concrete plan on PoK.
  • Japan and India can build rail and road connectivity across the Eurasian landmass running parallel to OBOR.
  • Project mausam, chabahar ports projects need to be implemented effectively.
  • India now needs to match ambition with commensurate augmentation of its capacities that allows it to be a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region
  • Chinese railways, highways, ports and othercapacities can serve as catalysts and platforms for sustained Indian double-digit growt
  • Therefore, for the time being, it may be worthwhile to carefully evaluate those components of the BRI which may, in fact, improve India’s own connectivity to major markets and resource supplies and become participants in them just as we have chosen to do with the AIIB and the NDB.

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