12 May 2017 – Hindustan Times
China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative is a grand Chinese vision that seeks to link production centres in China with markets and natural resource centres around the world through a China-built communications artery. Beijing is keen to have India come aboard this new economic initiative warning that otherwise it would become isolated.
China’s proposed meeting in Beijing in mid-May this year is as much to showcase its strategic geo-economic initiative of ‘One Belt, One Road (OBOR)’ – now called the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI) – as to try and convince detractors, including inside China, of the viability of the project. Part of the propaganda effort is the release this week of video clips on the BRI in the form of children’s bedtime stories by the state-owned official English-language China Daily!
Essentially, this US$ 4.4 trillion project (US$ 1.4 trillion estimated for the land-based component and the balance for the maritime route) is a grand Chinese vision that seeks to link production centres in China with markets and natural resource centres around the world through a China-built communications artery. Beijing’s plan is for China-led financial institutions to lend money to countries willing to participate in the OBOR to create the required infrastructure, deploy the surplus Chinese manpower to build them and ensure that China’s hitherto idle State-owned enterprises construct them. China’s huge idle resources will thus generate revenue while giving a boost to the stagnating Chinese economy. At the same time China’s armed forces are being upgraded and reoriented to protect Chinese investments and personnel abroad. According to informed estimates, China’s Navy, for instance, plans to build 400 warships and 100 submarines by 2030.
There is an equally important strategic imperative. If it materialises, the OBOR, which will girdle the globe, will extend China’s economic, diplomatic and military power well beyond its borders and across the world and place China virtually on par with the US. China’s ambition is to achieve this by 2049, the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
In the process, the OBOR will potentially squeeze the strategic space of China’s neighbours and bend borders as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – which is the first leg of OBOR where work has commenced – has already begun to do. By announcing the CPEC, Beijing discarded the ambiguity it had maintained for decades regarding Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), Gilgit and Baltistan and, ignoring India’s sovereignty and territorial concerns, chose to back Pakistan’s illegal occupation of these territories. The CPEC has also brought into sharp focus the military content of the CPEC and potentially collusive aspect of the strategic ‘alliance’ forged between China and Pakistan.
A number of articles, commentaries and conferences in recent months, mostly ‘inspired’ by Beijing, have advocated that India should come aboard this new economic initiative warning that otherwise it would be isolated. They have alluded to benefits that such participation would yield but been unable to quantify these. The four proposals advanced by the Chinese Ambassador in his speech at the United Service Institute in New Delhi on May 5 have been pointed to as new. However, the proposals were an obvious bid to soften India and get it to endorse the OBOR, ideally by sending a government delegation to attend the Summit in Beijing. All the proposals spoke of future objectives.
The proposals were: first, start negotiation on a China-India Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation; second, restart negotiations for a China-India Free Trade Agreement; third, strive for an early harvest on the border issue; and fourth, actively explore the feasibility of aligning China’s “One Belt One Road Initiative” (OBOR) and India’s “Act East Policy”. None of the suggestions is new.
The ‘Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation’ is a new undefined proposition. China presently has the following grades, in order of importance, of partnership with foreign countries: “all-weather strategic partnership” (only with Pakistan); “comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation” (only with Russia); “all-round strategic partnership”; “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership”; “comprehensive strategic partnership”; “strategic cooperative partnership” (includes India); “strategic partnership”; and other types of partnerships, which omit the word “strategy”.
China has been pushing for a Free Trade Agreement for years and India is unwilling for obvious reasons to conclude it. Similarly regarding the border issue, India has been urging its early resolution for decades with China putting off its settlement to the “next generation”. The nub of the Chinese Ambassador’s propositions was, therefore, clearly that India aligns with China’s “One Belt One Road Initiative”.
Significantly, in his speech China’s Ambassador Luo Zhaohui on four occasions said: “Even we can think about renaming the CPEC.” This was the first time ever that a Chinese official has publicly spoken of renaming the $ 51 billion CPEC project but, pertinently, this sentence was deleted from the text of the Ambassador’s talk within hours of being posted on the Embassy website. It was given out that this was because of a protest by Pakistan. Chinese analysts including in Chinese think-tanks have, however, recently suggested that Beijing had perhaps been hasty in announcing the OBOR and CPEC and not adequately consulted certain ‘key’ countries.
Jayadeva Ranade is a former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India and is President of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy
The views expressed are personal