China has come out a grand vision of world connectivity. In One Belt One Road summit held in Beijing on May, 2017, Chinese President shared his grand vision of interconnected world. As part of the plan China will invest 124 billion dollars towards building of road, rail and sea networks connecting Asia with Europe, Africa and beyond. As many as 29 countries from all continents participated in the meeting. Many were represented by heads of states, which included President of Russia, President of Turkey, Prime Minister of Pakistan, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. Other countries had sent their senior ministers. Many countries in Indian neighborhood, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka also participated in the meeting. India had abstained from the meeting.
The opinion on Indian decision to abstain has been mixed. Mr. Manishankar Aiyer has written that India has isolated herself by not attending the meeting. While, others have supported Indian move to boycott the summit. To be fair, India had limited option. As part of Belt and Road Initiative, China is building an economic corridor, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), that runs through disputed Jammu and Kashmir state. India claims Jammu and Kashmir belongs to her. China, however, brazenly constructing highway through a region that is not only disputed, it has a potential of surrounding India from the eastern and western borders. China on the other hand, is very sensitive to territories it considers disputed. For example, China claims Arunachal Pradesh of India to be her territory. China objects to India allowing Dalai Lama visiting Arunachal Pradesh. Because according to China, Arunachal is a disputed territory. Same goes for Tibet, same goes for South China Sea and islands in the area. China considers every piece of disputed real estate to be her own. Under this situation, India joining OBOR summit is akin to accepting Pakistan’s claim on occupied portions of Jammu and Kashmir state.
In the short run, India appears to be isolated. However, in long term it can be argued can CPEC be successful without India participating in the initiative? Consider the following points:
- Carrying oil from Guador to Xinxiang will be ten times more expensive than sea route. Obviously, this stated objective of CPEC may not be the prime objective.
- Pakistan will have access to power, infrastructure, information technology, modern agricultural technology. Question arises, can average Pakistani afford to pay the high price of power? Will Pakistani people be ready to pay toll for travelling on motor way?
- If Pakistan defaults on payment of her interest of 55 billion dollars loan, China will take over the property it has paid for to build. The same has happened in Sri Lanka and in many countries of Africa.
- Will Pakistani people get enough high quality jobs? Unlikely. Because Chinese prefer to work with their own man power and using their own raw material.
- On the upside, China may ask Pakistan to rein in terror groups. Already Pakistan has announced Hafiz Saeed as exporter of terror. India may breathe a little easy because cross border terrorism may come down because China may prevail upon Pakistan to rein in jihadi groups to protect Chinese interest. How terrorist groups will react to new situation, only time will tell.
Overall, it appears CPEC and BRI are heavily tilted in favour of China. As Chinese economy is slowing down, China may be creating jobs for her burgeoning population through infrastructure projects. Many also believe, polluting industries may be transferred out of China, into places like Pakistan. Nevertheless, being the stronger economy, larger population, and stronger economy, for any BRI and CPEC to be successful, India must participate at some point in time.