Home > 2017 > Does India Need to Respond to Chinese OBOR?

Mainstream, VOL LV No 21 New Delhi May 13, 2017

Does India Need to Respond to Chinese OBOR?

Sunday 14 May 2017

by Jajati K. Pattnaik

The OBOR (One Belt, One Road) is a trans-national connectivity project which was initiated by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 to connect China with Asia, Europe and Africa through the land corridor (SREB—Silk Road Economic Belt)1 and the sea corridor (MSR—Maritime Silk Road)2 to augment global trade and economic cooperation. But the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), ‘the flagship project’ of OBOR which passes through Pakistan- occupied Kashmir (PoK), has posed a challenge to India’s geo-economic interests in the region. As Indian Foreign Secretary, S. Jaishankar, has said, ‘the proposed CPEC passes through an area that New Delhi considered “an integral part of India”, albeit under illegal occupation.’ Jaishankar informed to the Chinese officials that the ‘proposed CPEC would infringe on the sovereignty of India’.3 Given this backdrop, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not attend the OBOR (One Belt One Road) summit to be held at Beijing on May 14 -15, 2017.4 Thus, New Delhi needs to respond to such a Chinese geo-economic doctrine through the following alternative strategies to counter any impending domination in the region.

Chabahar

India’s Chabahar port deal with Iran is a strategic gain putting the former in the grand chess- board of its maritime calculus in the emerging Asian geo-spatial architecture. Chabahar is the gateway to the International North-South Trans-port Corridor (INSTC)5 project which, in terms of time and space, affords better opportunities to India to have access with Europe and Russia. Moreover, the Indian leadership smells of Chinese hegemony in the OBOR initiative. But China is harping on India joining the OBOR project. The simple calculation is this—China has the capital and technology to execute the massive infrastructure movement and India has the enormous capacity to absorb as well as gainfully employ China’s immense over production and bail out the latter in case of any looming recession.

However, India cannot fully rely upon Beijing in the OBOR partnership.6 The recent Chinese efforts in blocking both India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) membership as well as the move to scuttle the prospective ban on JEM chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, at the UN have put a question-mark on the goodwill gesture of Beijing’s political leadership in collaborating in such a belt and road initiative. How can India go ahead with such diplomatic dualism of China?

So New Delhi should keep all its options ready. On the other hand, she should expedite the International North-South Transit Corridor (INSTC) to bring together India, Iran and Russia to create multi-modal links (ship-rail-road) from India to Europe, via the Persian Gulf, Central Asia and Russia as a viable alternative to protect its national interest in the emerging Asian architecture.

Map of Chinese OBOR

Courtesy: The Economist. Available at https://cdn.static-economist.com/sites/default/files/images/print-edition/20160702_CNM957.png

 Act East Policy

China’s controversial claims over the South China Sea have evoked strong reactions among the littoral states of the region. There is a strong resentment among a section of the ASEAN neighbours our such a Chinese domination in South-East Asia. In this context, India’s Act East policy could be an effective counterweight strategy to contain China in the Indo-China peninsula.

It is pertinent to mention here that Indian soft power is sustained on the civilisational ethos, democratic governance and diverse cultural mosaic. On the other, the Chinese system is conservative as well as authoritarian in character. India has contributed a lot to the trajectory of development in South and South- East Asia.

A cursory glance of the South-East Asian history indicates that it is deeply interwoven with the Indian cultural milieu as vividly exemplified in the Indianised kingdoms of Funan, Khmer and Sri Vijay Sailendra and Majapahit in South-East Asia. The use of the Indo-Sanskrit language in Thailand and Bhasa in Indonesia as well as Malaysia, presence of an Indo-Dravidian temple architecture in Angkor (Cambodia) as well as Borobudur (Indonesia) and literary works on Ramakein in Thailand based on Ramayana are quite a few examples to justify India’s greater cultural connectivity with South-East Asia.7

So, India enjoys added advantages over China in pulling well the ASEAN in its own favour, and can take the mileage through closer partnership in terms of transnational connectivity and deeper economic linkages to counter increasing Chinese presence in the region.

Mausam

India’s geographical setting is perceived in the broader canvass of the Indian Ocean and its strategic depth in the west spreads through the Gulf of Aden down to the eastern coast of Africa through the Strait of Hormuz, and in the east it extends up to the South China Sea including the Strait of Malacca, and in the south it expands up to the Antarctic.8

Map of Mausam

Courtesy: The Times of India. Available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Narendra-Modis-Mausam-manoeuvre-to-check-Chinas-maritime-might/articleshow/42562085.cms

The Mausam project,9 unveiled by the present political dispensation, could be used as a geo-cultural tool to revive India’s cross-cultural currents in the Indian Ocean. This strategy is traced back to India’s ancient maritime trade based on the calculations of Mausam implying weather conditions for the safety sailing of ships following a regular route, that is, south-west from May to September and northeast from November to March across the Indian Ocean. It sets to rediscover the flourishing Indian Ocean world which extends from East Africa, Arabian Peninsula, Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka to the South-East Asian archipelago.10

So, this project would connect India with East Africa, West Asia, Sri Lanka and South-East Asia in terms of trade, technology, tourism and tradition reinforcing its geo-strategic position. The project would combine trade, technology, tourism and tradition across the Indian Ocean reinforcing India’s geo-strategic position. Hence, the success of Mausam would definitely counter increasing Chinese presence in Sri Lanka, Maldives and Pakistan in the Maritime Silk Route project of China.

Notwithstanding the above, both India and China need to be engaged for deeper integration of global markets through compatible models. An incompatible geo-economic project is neither in the interest of India nor China. But at this point, India should show its strong reservations on the CPEC which passes through Pakistan- occupied Kashmir (PoK) violating the sover-eignty and territorial integrity of India. She should vociferously demand Chinese with-drawal from the CPEC corridor for New Delhi’s support to the OBOR project in future.

Endnotes

1. SREB, that is, the land route, thrusts upon six corridors;

China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor (CMREC); New Eurasian Land Bridge (NELB); China-Central and West Asia Economic Corridor (CCWAEC); China-Indo-China Peninsula Economic Corridor (CICPEC); China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIMEC). See, Hazrat Hassan, “China: Six Magical Corridors”, http://foreignpolicynews.org/2016/08/14/china-6-magical-economic-corridor/[accessed on April 14, 2017]. See, Sana Batool, “Pakistan-China Economic Corridor — a Mutually Beneficial Project”, The Nation, 2016. Also see, Yiang Ziman “Six Economic Corridor to Better Connect Asia and Europe”, May 2015, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2015-05/29/content_20858327.htm [accessed on May 2, 2017].

2. Maritime Silk Road, that is, the sea/ocean route which

starts from China’s eastern ports, passes through South-East Asia, South Asia, East Africa, West Asia and Mediterranean and Venice and ends at Rotterdam in Netherlands. See, Talmiz Ahmad, ‘Who’s Afraid of One Belt One Road?’, The Wire, June 3, 2016. https://thewire.in/40388/one-belt-one-road-shaping-connectivities-and-politics-in-the-21st-century/ [accessed on May 1, 2017).

3. Anirban Bhaumik, “Modi not to Attend OBOR Meet in Beijing“, Deccan Herald, March 6, 2017. http;//www.deccanherald.com/content/599784/modi-not-attend-obor-meet.html [accessed on May 1, 2017].

4. Ibid.

5. Experts working in this field opine that the INSTC

links India and Iran with Europe and Russia involving a fourfold transportation process. These are: (a) in the first stage, there would be trans-shipment of goods from the ports in India to the ports of Bandarabbas and Chabahar in Iran; (b) in the second stage, there would be transit of goods by the Iranian Railways to the ports of Bandar Anjali and Bandar Amirabad on the shores of the Caspian Sea; (c) in the third stage, there would be passage of goods through the Caspian Sea to the port of Astrakhan in Russia and (d) in the fourth stage, there would be transit of goods through road and railways in Russia across Eastern Europe to Central and Western Europe. Realistic introspection of the project seem beneficial to all the stakeholders. See, Sudha Ramachandran, “India, Iran, Russia Map out Trade Route”, Asia Times, June 29, 2002, http://www.atimes.com/ind-pak/DF29f02.html [accessed on May 24, 2016].

6. Jajati K. Pattnaik and Rudra P. Pradhan, “Chabahar: Gateway to North South Corridor”, The Arunachal Times, November 7, 2016.

7. V. Suryanarayan, “Indian Cultural Influences in Indonesia”, Dialogue, Vol. 9, no. 1, p. 137.

8. C. Christine Fair, “Indo-Iranian Ties Thicker than Oil”,

The Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol.II, No.1, March 2007, http://meria.idc.acil/journal/2007/issue1/jv11noa9.html [accessed on February 19, 2016].

9. Project Mausam was launched under the present political dispensation led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. It ‘seeks to transcend present-day national and ethnic boundaries, documenting and celebrating the common cultural values and economic ties of the Indian ocean world which will not only strengthen current ties between countries across the ocean, but also set a precedent for new bridges of co-operation and continued relations and interactions’; b) ‘providing a platform to connect discrete cultural and natural world heritage sites across the Indian Ocean ‘world’ by providing a cross-cultural, trans-national narrative’; c) ‘identifying gaps in listing of sites and filling in lacuna by providing a holistic, multi-layered perspective and drawing relationships between the existing categories of ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ heritage and this would redefine the concept of ‘cultural landscapes’, and allow for a fresh, multi-faceted approach to understanding past and present-day relationships’ d) advocating for ‘Indian Ocean maritime routes to attain transnational nomination under world heritage, increasing scope for visibility, research, sustainable tourism, heritage development and promoting other cultural conventions across the Indian ocean region.’ See, “Project Mausam: Objectives and Goals,” Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, http://ignca.nic.in/mausam_objectives.htm [accessed on April 10, 2017].

10. Sachin Parashar, “Narendra Modi’s ‘Mausam’ Manoeuvre to Check China’s Maritime Might”, The Times of India, September 16, 2014. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Narendra-Modis-Mausam-manoeuvre-to-check-Chinas-maritime-might/articleshow/42562085.cms [accessed on April 17, 2017]

Dr Jajati K. Pattnaik is an Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Jomin Tayeng Government Model Degree College, Roing, Arunachal Pradesh. He was formerly a Visiting Scholar at the Gulf Studies Programme, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62