OBOR : India China conflict
Sunday breezy morning I woke up with and realized that newspapers were flooded with the words and phrases like “OBOR” and India’s stand on it. My curiosity multiplied when I read about India-China conflict. From there on, I took on the research on the subject to make readers well aware of what’s it all about.
Nepal officially inked the One Belt One Road (OBOR) deal with China leaving India as the only South-Asian country not to be involved in the Asian superpower’s ambitious project. The deal, which was signed in Kathmandu, allowed development of cross-border connectivity and more. With the exception of Bhutan, which has no diplomatic ties with China, every other South Asian country has signed into OBOR. Heads of the State of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Myanmar and high-level delegations from Bangladesh and Nepal attended the two-day Belt and Road Forum in China on 14th and 15th May 2017.
So what exactly is OBOR?
Touted as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious project, the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative focuses on improving connectivity and cooperation among Asian countries, Africa, China and Europe. The emphasis is on enhancing land as well as maritime routes. The policy is significant for China since it aims to boost domestic growth in the country. Experts have noted that OBOR is also a part of China’s strategy for economic diplomacy. Considering China’s exclusion from G7, OBOR policy might just provide China an opportunity to continue its economic development.
Why is India opposed to OBOR?
The main reason behind India’s opposition towards the policy is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is a part of OBOR. Recent Chinese reports claim that following the launch of CPEC in Pakistan, the country has received investments worth more than $46 billion. “We are all for promoting connectivity… but on the OBOR, our position is that since the so-called CPEC forms a part of OBOR, and it passes through Indian territory, that is where our difficulty lies,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesman Gopal Baglay had cleared Indian stand on the issue. Citing sovereignty issues, India has raised objections over CPEC projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). China, however, has not tried to attenuate India’s concerns. “The CPEC is a flagship project, but all countries in South Asia have now confirmed participation in the Belt and Road Forum and are making use of the initiative,” Wang Dehua, Director, Institute for South and Central Asia Studies in Shanghai made a neutral statement.
Belt and Road Forum?
Beijing hosted the two-day Belt and Road Forum (BRF) from May 14 facilitating high-level delegations talks among leaders, including 29 Heads of State, on OBOR. India did not attend the forum.
Nepal in, India absent: What does this mean for India?
Nepal and India have sustained good bilateral ties. However, with China entering the equation, India might just have a hard time in keeping its status intact. Chinese foreign policy experts have noted that Nepal’s inclusion in OBOR may force India to join the initiative or face exclusion. Hu Shisheng, Director of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told “If India does not participate in the Belt and Road Initiative, something all her neighbours are positive about, then the neighbours will have cause to complain. This is not constructive for India and will reduce its appeal in the region. The neighbours may ask questions like why is India not involved?”
India’s stand on the issue
India has strong reservations over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship project of the connectivity initiative.
In a strongly-worded statement, India escalated its opposition to OBOR, suggesting that the project is little more than a colonial enterprise, leaving debt and broken communities in its wake.
“We are of the firm belief that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognised international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality. Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities; balanced ecological and environmental protection and preservation standards; transparent assessment of project costs; and skill and technology transfer to help long term running and maintenance of the assets created by local communities.Connectivity projects must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity ,” Baglay said
Sri Lanka is a big example, where an unviable Hambantota port project has left Colombo reeling under $8 billion debt.
What should India do?
OBOR project is expected to give China an incomparable upper hand vis-a-vis India. New Delhi aspires for a friendly neighbourhood but considering the constant security threat, it faces from Pakistan and often from China even now, India cannot afford to play second fiddle to Beijing. And even if it decides to join OBOR, it cannot afford to be a junior partner.
India needs to speed up its own infrastructure projects and find ways to strengthen its sphere of influence. Raja Mohan suggests at least three ways in which India can tackle China’s OBOR challenge:
First, India should ramp internal connectivity. Raja Mohan, Strategic Affairs expert, says that China didn’t start OBOR as an external initiative but it was “built upon the top of the internal “Go West” strategy that focused, over the last two decades, on unifying China’s domestic market and connecting its developed east coast with the interior provinces.”
Second, the expert says that India should modernise connectivity across its land and maritime frontiers with neighbouring countries. “China is certainly not responsible for India neglecting its inherited trans-border connectivities since Independence; nor has Beijing stopped India from building road and rail links to its borders.”
Third, India should work with countries like Japan and multilateral institutions to develop regional connectivity in the Indian Subcontinent and beyond the same.
The fate of the project and India’s Stand with Changing government is still unknown but witnessing the current situation it appears joining hands with China is not on a to-do list for India.
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