Tag Archives | One Belt One Road

Thoughts on India’s approach to China’s 1B1R initiative

How can India respond to a Chinese project that is aimed at creating a geo-strategic realm for itself?

By Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Last week saw two articles in Indian media on the challenges and opportunities for India posed by China’s One Belt One Road (1B1R) project. This post looks at the arguments made in the two reports and puts down thoughts on India’s response to 1B1R.

To understand what 1B1R is, look no further than this succinct The Wire article by Shyam Saran. Suffice to quote this section in the piece that points to the strategic angle of the project:

China sees the twin-dimensional initiative as a long-term project to secure its geo-strategic realm, which has both a continental and a maritime dimension. It is not just an economic initiative. It has obvious political and security implications. In any case, China’s strategists do not draw lines separating economic and security objectives. Each dimension reinforces the other, even though the economic dimension may sometimes mask the security imperative.

1B1R then, is likely to remain the anchor around which China’s global outreach will be shaped. How should it be seen from an Indian National Interest perspective? Two pieces that appeared in the Indian newspapers last week offer a few leads while responding to this critical question.

One Belt One Road Plan. Source: China Daily Europe

One Belt One Road Plan. Source: China Daily Europe

The first piece in The Hindu while conceding that “Chinese political expansion and economic ambitions, packaged as 1B1R are two sides of the same coin” argues:

India needs to match ambition with commensurate augmentation of its capacities that allows it to be a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region. This will require New Delhi to not only overcome its chronic inability to take speedy decisions with respect to defence partnerships and procurement, but will also necessitate a sustained period of predictable economic growth; OBOR can assist in the latter.

Besides resuscitating economic engagement with the world, there are other advantages of being a part of groups such as 1B1R. A thumb rule helps: in the amoral setting of geopolitics, it benefits an entity to be a member of many clubs, rather than being outside them. It is easier to be a part of the clubs and use them to build one’s own capacities, rather than spend inordinate efforts on opposing such formations. Hence, this author strongly supports India’s presence at other clubs like BRICS, AIIB and SCO as well. Applying this thumb rule to 1B1R, India is better off being a part of it, particularly because the capabilities for India to float a competing vision altogether, possibly in partnership with the Japanese PQI just don’t exist.

Even if India decides to be a part of 1B1R, two critical questions raised by the authors remain unanswered: Can India seek reworking of the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) by Beijing in return for its active participation? Furthermore, for the stability of the South Asian arm of OBOR, can Beijing be motivated to become a meaningful interlocutor prompting rational behaviour from Islamabad?

On the first question, India finds it unacceptable that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir. However, as the second editorial on 1B1R in Mint rightly points, New Delhi might now find it too late to extract Chinese concessions on CPEC in return for support on 1B1R. Moreover, India’s opposition or otherwise to CPEC will have little impact on the project itself. A more realist approach would be for India to de-hyphenate the CPEC leg from the overall 1B1R initiative.

On the second question, it is highly unlikely that China will restrain Pakistani actions against India in any meaningful way. In fact, China is most comfortable keeping the India—Pakistan conflict on the boil: on one hand, the conflict keeps India focused on its western border. On the other, the conflict allows gaining Pakistani friendship at minimal costs.

Overall, India can look at 1B1R from the dual lens of competition and complementation: In the Indian sub-continent, visualise 1B1R as an aggressive competitor: use it as an excuse to accelerate India’s own projects of connecting markets in India’s own neighbourhood. Outside the Indian sub-continent, look at complementing 1B1R. For instance, in East Africa, India can work with China under the aegis of 1B1R to expand its own reach.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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India’s West Asia policy — is it losing out to China?

India needs to inject fresh thinking into its West Asia policy to further its national interest and avoid being left out due to China’s foray

The Chinese president Xi Jinping’s recent visit from January 17-23 to Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt signal Beijing’s intentions to play a proactive role in this region. China’s ravenous appetite for energy notwithstanding, it has been very astute in dealing with the countries in West Asia. The visit was all the more significant because tensions had arisen between Iran and Saudi Arabia due to execution of a Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi Arabia in early January 2016. This led to break in diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Unfazed, China went ahead with the visit.

What is of interest is how once a staunch anti-communist nation like Saudi Arabia warmed up to China’s overtures.  Saudi Arabia established diplomatic ties with China in 1990.  This was preceded by China offering CSS-2 intermediate range ballistic missiles to the Saudis. In 2007, China sold Dong Feng(DF) 21 medium range ballistic missiles with the tacit approval of the US Central Intelligence Agency(CIA). Saudi Arabia is the largest supplier of crude to China. According to the International Monetary Fund(IMF), trade between the two countries increased from US $1.28 billion in 1990 to US $ 74 billion in 2012.   China’s demand for oil is expected to grow from 6 million barrels per day to 13 million barrels per day by 2035. In order to diversify its sources, China has naturally looked towards Iran.

China played an important role in lifting the UN sanctions against Iran. It was a key negotiator with US and other permanent members of the UN to persuade Iran in capping its nuclear program.  So it was not a surprise that Xi Jinpeng was the first world leader to visit Tehran after sanctions were lifted on January 17, 2016. China and Iran have agreed to enhance security cooperation through intelligence sharing, counter-terror measures, military exchanges and coordination.  Iran is a crucial link in the strategically ambitious China’s ‘One Belt One Road'(OBOR) project. According to a Chinese government report, OBOR aims to connect China with Central Asia, Russia and Europe (Baltic).  It will connect China with the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea. With the US practically vacating the Middle East, China seeks to step in to fill the vaccuum.

As the US seeks to pivot to Asia-Pacific through Japan, allies in South East Asia and India, it is natural for China to enhance the contours of its relationships with countries in West Asia. China is in for the long haul. On the other hand, India has been trying to play catch up. It did not balance the relationships between the West and Iran during the economic sanctions. Suitably placed for negotiations role, it ceded space to China. With Chabahar project also getting delayed due to slow progress on India’s part, it shouldn’t surprise us if we lose it. Least of all to China.

 

Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Khezr beach, Hormuz(Iran), licensed from creativecommons.org

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