In News- Recently, China hinted at a shift in pursuing its signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) amid growing concerns about debt repayments from many partner countries due to COVID-19 pandemic.
What is BRI?
- The Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project was launched by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.
• The project intends to link Asia with Europe and Africa through an overland “belt” and a maritime silk “road”.
• But it is more than that as it involves:
- The export of Chinese capital, labor, technology,
- The use of the Yuan and
- The development of new ports, industrial hubs, special economic zones and military facilities, under Beijing’s auspices.
The project consists of two main components:
1. The land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” (SREB) which consists of six land condors
2. Ocean-going “Maritime Silk Road” (MSR).
Why has China Launched it?
- Bridging the infrastructure gap in Asia: According to China, the Belt and Road Initiative will bridge the ‘infrastructure gap’ and thus accelerate economic growth across the Asia Pacific area and Central and Eastern Europe.
- Economic motives of China: OBOR is aimed at boosting domestic growth in China which has slipped in recent years. In 2016 china grew by 6.7%which is the lowest since 1990. OBOR also provides china a market to sells its product especially Steel.
- Global leadership: But some feel that BRI is more out of political motivation rather than real demand for infrastructure. It is a masterstroke by China to establish itself as a world-leading economy and to spread its power, particularly in the South Asian region at the expense of the US.
Recent issues and China’s response:
- China has faced calls from countries in Asia and Africa to delay or waive debt repayments.
- According to China, simply waiving debtors’ obligations as some countries or organizations have called is not going to be effective as a solution.
- If any of the debtors encounter difficulties to pay on time, there may be tailored plans including rescheduling or China increasing funding to help related projects resume operation and return profits and suggested repayments could be solved “by multiple financial or other approaches, such as China adding grants to help bring projects back to life, conducting debt-to-equity swaps, or hiring Chinese firms to assist operation.
INDIA and BRI:
Why India has not Joined BRI?
- The primary objection is that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (part of BRI) passes through Gilgit-Baltistan region and thus ignores India’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
- BRI would lead to Chinese neo-colonialism causing unsustainable debt burden for communities and an adverse impact on the environment in the partner countries.
- Then, there is a lack of transparency in China’s agenda. Some experts believe that BRI is not just an economic project but one that China is promoting for political control.
Criticism of India’s Decision:
Some commentators have criticized India for not joining BRI:
- India may also face some difficult choices in the road ahead, because as a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and a co-founder of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and (from June 2017) it will be asked to support many of the projects under the BRI.
- By this India will isolate itself amidst the apparently growing international support for the ambitious project.
- The partner countries will benefit as this will lead to an inflow of billions of dollars in loans for projects.
- Even countries such as the U.S. and Japan, which are not a part of the BRI but sent official delegations.
Counter-arguments to it:
But diplomats based in India have counter-argued that:
- International isolation is not India’s biggest problem as India is too large an economic and political entity to be isolated by another power.
- And China needs our market more than India needs Chinese investment.
Geo-Political Challenges Posed by BRI to India:
But no matter what the experts say, BRI definitely poses two geopolitical challenges:
- China in Kashmir: China is gradually emerging the real third force in Kashmir. Since 1950s, China is in occupation of Aksai chin; In 1963, Pakistan ceded Trans-Karakoram Tract to china; China’s first trans-border infrastructure project in Kashmir — the Karakoram Highway — dates back to the late 1960s and now it’s presence is increasing further with CPEC.
- China in South Asia: BRI will massively strengthen China’s commercial, economic, political and security influence in South Asia which could marginalize India’s regional primacy.
Way Ahead for India:
- Improve infrastructure in frontier regions: Whether it is in Kashmir, Arunachal, the Andamans or the neighbourhood, India’s neglect of its frontier regions has weakened its regional position. Thus we should improve infrastructure in frontier regions.
- Improve internal connectivity: India should remember that China’s BRI did not start out as an external initiative. It was built on the existing internal “Go West” strategy launched two decades ago, that has focused on unifying China’s domestic market and connecting its developed east coast with the interior provinces.
- Improve connectivity with neighbours: India should modernize connectivity across its land and maritime frontiers with its neighbours in the Subcontinent, South East Asia and the Gulf by completing our projects in these regions.
Collaborate with others-
- India can work with nations like Japan in developing regional connectivity. Japan has already outlined a Belt and Road initiative of its own, called the Partnership for Quality Infrastructure under which Japan has put up nearly $150 billion to support infrastructure projects all across the Indo-Pacific and Eurasia.
- India should also improve our access to Europe by expediting projects like INSTC and others.
- On participation in BRI: India must focus on debating the specific terms of individual projects rather than having to say “Yes” or “No” to the BRI as a whole.
Steps taken by India:
- Project Sagarmala: It was launched in 2015 to integrate the development of the Ports, the Industrial clusters and hinterland and efficient evacuation systems through road, rail, inland and coastal waterways.
- Project Mausam: It was announced by the NDA government in 2014. The project exists at two levels –
- At the macro level, it aims to re-connect and re-establish communications between countries of the Indian Ocean world, which would lead to an enhanced understanding of cultural values and concerns.
- At the micro-level, the focus is on understanding national cultures in their regional maritime milieu.