The primary objective of the One Belt One Road initiative is to improve connectivity and cooperation among Asian countries, Africa, China and Europe.Inspired by the Silk Road, the medieval trade routes between Europe and Asia, the emphasis is on increasing land as well as maritime routes. The policy is significant for China since it aims to boost domestic growth in the country. It is even noted that OBOR is also a part of China’s policy for economic diplomacy.
China has rejected criticism of the plan and the summit, saying the scheme is open to all, is a win-win and focused only at promoting prosperity. “What we hope to create is a big family of harmonious co-existence,” President Xi said.
On May 14th, 2017 the Forum (BRF) is being attended by the heads of 29 states and governments that includes Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Sri Lankan PM Ranil Wickrmasinghe, delegations from South Asian countries, leaders and officials from Russia, US, Japan, UK, Germany and France. China would reportedly spend USD 1 trillion on railways line, roads, ports and other infrastructures.
The participating countries will benefit in terms of infrastructure and trade. OBOR can be an easy and fast way for many small countries to acquire important infrastructure projects they cannot afford otherwise. OBOR can provide big long-term benefits to the Chinese economy. Moreover, it can also provide opportunities to use its overcapacity in steel and minerals. Permanent Chinese presence in dozens of countries will give China an edge over its rivals in trading with these small countries. China can even spread its manufacturing across countries. If OBOR becomes a reality, it can help China create a vast economic empire in Asia and Africa.
According to the Economics Times, it is not all about economy and trade. China always hides its military plans in its economic projects. A vast infrastructural footprint in dozens of countries in Asia and Africa will eventually mean a strong Chinese military presence across OBOR. A small country that hosts infrastructure created by China and unable to repay the loan will be vulnerable to China’s diplomatic and military moves.
India and Japan have shown reluctance to attend the summit. While Japan will send a delegation, India has refused to send any representative. The US took a U-turn at the last moment and will send a representative.
Why is India not participating?
India is the only country in South Asia which has not signed any agreement on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious OBOR project. India maintains that China has not created an environment of trust to carry out the belt and road projects.
Further, New Delhi is upset over Beijing’s refusal to allow entry to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a global cartel that controls nuclear trade, and over Beijing blocking a request at the UN to sanction Masood Azhar, the Pakistan-based head of terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which has attacked military bases in India.
This step has been taken to show displeasure towards China’s inclusion in the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is a collection of infrastructure projects currently under construction throughout Pakistan. In a strongly-worded statement issued last night, India had said that the connectivity initiative must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“It poses a huge security threat to India. It would stand totally encircled from east, west, north, as well as the Indian Ocean Region in a far stronger measure vis-a-vis what it is today,” defence expert P.K. Saighal told ANI.
He added, “Beijing is trying to encircle New Delhi by undertaking construction projects in the neighboring countries under the guise of connectivity purposes.”
India has pointed out that China is building infrastructure projects in the disputed Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, and thus hurting its interest in the name of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and OBOR. New Delhi cannot join a program that hurts Indian territorial interests.
To this, Mr.Lin said,
“The official reason why the Indian government rejected the offer to join the initiative is that it is designed to pass Kashmir, a disputed area between India and Pakistan. However, it is just an unfounded excuse as Beijing has been maintaining a consistent position on the Kashmir issue, which has never changed.”
There may not be any tangible loss to India if it goes unrepresented because OBOR is not a membership-based organization. India’s absence at the summit will certainly not be liked by Beijing which was keen on New Delhi joining the connectivity event.
At the summit, some Western diplomats have expressed unease about both the summit and the plan as a whole, seeing it as an attempt to promote Chinese influence globally.
It is become clearer that the move was basically a signal of discomfort from the Indian side to their neighbors on the east. How upcoming events will play out is largely what will largely determine the future of India-China relations.