Indian Obstinacy and Chinese Corridor Offensive – Imtiaz Gul

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Some 29 countries, World Bank and  the International Monetary Fund participated in the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) for International Cooperation, including senior leaders and officials from the US, Japan and South Korea.

On the occasion, President Xi Jin Ping pledged a major funding boost to the new Silk Road, including an extra 100 billion yuan ($14.50 billion) into the existing Silk Road Fund, 380 billion yuan in loans from two policy banks and 60 billion yuan in aid to developing countries and international bodies in countries along the new trade routes.

Initiatives such as CPEC and New Silk Road essentially underscore the Chinese quest for stability and staggering of risks. It is also rooted in the belief that stability and development go hand in hand. Beijing leadership also believes that without an economically developing and politically peaceful region, it can neither expand its markets nor can it share the dividends of its own development.

In an apparent endorsement of China’s initiatives, Britain’s finance minister told the summit his country was a “natural partner” in the new Silk Road, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, praised China’s “vision and ingenuity”.

India, on the other hand, chose to boycott the Forum, with its External Affairs Ministry spokesperson saying his country “cannot accept a project that violates its sovereignty and territorial integrity.” This position came on the heels of New Delhi’s open disapproval of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) on many occasions, ever since President Xi signed off investments and assistance worth over 57 billion dollars (as of May 2017).

Most Indians and their current leadership pretends not to bother about Pakistan. But if we look at the course of events, particularly of the last one year or, they are almost aimed at “isolating and teaching a lesson to Pakistan”.

The entire Indian opposition to CPEC is primarily rooted in its relations with Pakistan, and hence rejection of everything involving its westerly neighbour.

Indian’s objection to the B&R is partly a show for domestic politics, partly to pile pressure on China. However, 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,” wrote the Chinese Daily, Global Times in a critical editorial.

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. Big country diplomacy is mostly all-round,” wrote the paper, resonating what most Chinese leaders and intelligentsia think. It also pointed out that “some people in India, with the ability to influence public opinion, have a shallow analysis of state interests, and an outdated understanding of geopolitics. Their stereotyped view of China continues to spread to the whole of Indian society, which may have destructive power. India and China should be vigilant about this, the paper warned.

The Chinese media is not alone in criticising the Indian approach. Sudheendra Kulkarni, former aide to ex Indian PM Vajpayee and head of Observer Research Foundation, called Modi’s absence from BRF an ‘own goal’. Kulkarni, who is a strong advocate of Indian inclusion in the Chinese Belt and Road (B&R) initiative, opined that Modi needs better advisers when it comes to B&R and its ties with China.

Kulkarni’s critique also included the Indian media’s jingoistic approach towards China and its allies.  “With the Indian government taking a rejectionist approach, jingoistic sections of the media have gone berserk over projecting the Belt and Road as China’s agenda to “colonise” the world. Nothing can be more ridiculous”, wrote Kulkarni in his op-ed for NDTV.

The ‘colonising’ reference is specifically aimed at Pakistan, as the media in New Delhi, since yesterday, is actively claiming that Islamabad would become Beijing’s colony by 2030. Beijing plans to turn Pakistan into its economic colony read a headline in Indian daily Times of India. The story claimed to “confirm that Pakistan will become an economic colony of India”

Narratives being churned out in India and elsewhere disregard the pro-active Chinese policy on removing misperceptions surrounding CPEC. Chinese officials and diplomats have very judiciously embarked on an unprecedented public outreach campaign through both the formal as well as the social media to allay fears being fanned by the opponents of the CPEC and Belt and Road initiatives.

Voices of reason like Kulkarni are slowly losing their voice in India. Even Bollywood, a relatively rational section on the Indian society, is jumping on Modi’s nationalist bandwagon. Rishi Kapoor, renowned actor, tweeted the following for Kulkarin after his participation in the BRF summit:

The Indian conversation  on and around CPEC suggests that recent events in China have seemingly put a lasting – and also irritating – impression on New Delhi. Rather than acknowledging a diplomatic blunder that Modi government might have committed, policy makers and media influencers in India are running an active smear campaign against China, CPEC, and Pakistan.

Also, if the Chinese – at all – end up extracting undue benefits from CPEC, it would be squarely the fault of the Pakistani leadership. Nobody should hold outsiders responsible for the mistakes of  and comprised by the Pakistani ruling elites. The blame for undue gains would have to be placed at the doorstep of Pakistani government and not the Chinese.

As the Global Times editorial rightly pointed out, instead of being vindictive, selective and amateurish, India needs to look beyond narrow worldview and rifts with its neighbours, especially with China and Pakistan, and work towards geo-economic gains. By boycotting global summits such as the BRF, India would do nothing but end up being seen more as an obstruction to regional trade and connectivity than a facilitator for cross-continental continental.

The author is Director, CRSS. 

The article was originally Published in The Friday Times

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