Why India is keeping China guessing over One Belt, One Road #Hindustan360

#Hindustan360

Ambiguity has long been a key asset of Chinese diplomacy, from grand strategy to even territorial claims. India appears to be taking a leaf out of this book in its considered response to China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, which has succeeded in leaving Beijing guessing. View more at #Hindustan360.

The Chinese capital is currently in the throes of preparation for one of China’s biggest ever summits — the May 14 Belt and Road Forum, where President Xi Jinping will host at least 28 heads of state and government to push OBOR — subsequently renamed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in English to connote a more open and flexible initiative (that is, there can be many roads and belts), although rather tellingly the name in Chinese remains Yi Dai Yi Lu (or, One Belt, One Road).

Attendees include the Russian president, prime ministers of Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi and six other ASEAN leaders. The plan envisages a land economic “belt” to Central and South Asia and Europe, and a maritime silk “road” to Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.

Liu Jinsong, minister and deputy chief of mission at the Chinese Embassy in Delhi, revealed on April 21 that Beijing was “till today still waiting for the reply for India” and that India was “in the first group (of countries) to get an invite”. China wanted PM Modi to attend, but considering he will in any case visit China in September for BRICS, that was always an unrealistic proposition.

More than that, India does not want to endorse OBOR at a high level for at least two reasons. Most importantly, China decided to make the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a flagship OBOR project.

CPEC as a key route of OBOR

CPEC passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). And Beijing had no reason to frame CPEC as a key route of OBOR, when it could well have been taken it forward on a parallel basis. Second, there is much that is unclear about OBOR and its strategic intentions. India is hence right to play a waiting game.

China isn’t pleased. As Liu said on April 21, speaking at a gathering of top policymakers hosted by the Observer Research Foundation in Mumbai, “The earlier countries join us, the earlier they have more voice and benefit. China never pressures India to join the BRI. India is a sovereign country. It’s your sovereign right to make your decision.” Yet he added pointedly: “China always endorses India’s strategies, like Make in India.”

Liu did not offer a solution to India’s concerns on the PoK projects, but only repeated the 1963 China-Pakistan agreement which said that “after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations with China”, stressing China didn’t see the territory as Pakistan’s.

(Then why it neither consulted India on CPEC nor invited it to join, or for that matter decided to name the corridor as the China-Pakistan corridor while admitting the dispute, is not clear.)

CPEC long term investment

Former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, at the ORF forum, suggested the way forward for India as it grapples with a response to OBOR. “Not all projects under the BRI are viable economically which suggests they would have some geostrategic motivation. It’s very hard to see a real economic justification for CPEC. And it’s the strategic portion, such as the port, that they have implemented first.”

On CPEC, Menon said that “by making a long-term investment” China “seems to solidify and legitimise” Pakistan’s illegal occupation. At the same time, it’s clear that while protecting its interests, India certainly cannot be in denial that OBOR is likely to drastically change its surrounding strategic landscape, especially in South Asia, where Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka are all deepening economic ties with China, not to mention Pakistan.

“While making clear sovereign aspects of CPEC are unacceptable to us, we might explore which portion, whether infrastructure or connectivity, can serve India’s interests in improving connectivity and integration with the Asian and global economy,” said Menon. “For me prudence demands we prepare for the changing landscape we will face one way or another in the next few years.” A combination of prudence and flexibility may be the right approach for India, and so far, Delhi seems to be on the right track.

View more at #Hindustan360.