The Bold Voice of J&K

India should gear up for one belt one road

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  RK Pachauri 

While the world and the US public nervously assess global changes likely to take place with the incumbency of President Donald Trump as the leader of the world’s most powerful nation, not much attention is being provided to the other world power and its forward vision. China continues to be driven by its conviction that it would, as a nation and as a cohesively powerful society, dominate world affairs and global economic activity in the future as second to none.
India’s Foreign Secretary has just been to Beijing for a strategic dialogue, as part of which India takes China seriously not only for what it is as a nation today but essentially in view of where it is heading in the global power equation. Positions of power are decided on relative terms. US society is perhaps more divided than ever before, and more significantly it appears to be in the grip of autarkic tendencies, which are bound to erode its global influence across several parts of the world, beginning with its immediate neighbourhood.
As opposed to this reality, China foresees itself as a global power with economic influence expanding to several parts of the world. Symbolic of this aspiration and as a substantive foundation for it, China is pursuing its major initiative of ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR), which attempts to build on the historical linkages associated in the past with the well-known silk route.
In China’s OBOR initiative is embedded a visionary and forward looking approach that would clearly enhance China’s influence in several parts of the world. This initiative was announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 and represents collective intellectual inputs and wisdom not only from the Government but several think-tanks and research institutions in China. In fact, one major transformation of the Chinese system lies in its ability today to harness analytical and research-based ideas from a variety of sources including some from overseas.
It was in 1991 that the Chinese Government and a few foreign organisations and Governments held a meeting in the prestigious Diaoyutai Guesthouse in Beijing which gave birth to the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED). This author was part of that eventful meeting and subsequently a member of the CCICED. Over the years the CCICED, which includes Chinese as well as foreign specialists, has rendered ongoing advice to the Chinese Government on issues related to environment and development, including climate change.
The OBOR initiative, however, is completely home-grown. Essentially, this is based on two components, the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and the oceangoing Maritime Silk Road (MSR). India essentially lies in the middle of both these routes, and it is important for us to determine how and in what manner we would engage with these two arms of China’s initiatives embodying its economic diplomacy far away from its own territory. It is reported that over 100 countries and international organisations have expressed willingness to actively support and join OBOR. According to CCTV China, 40 have already signed cooperation deals with China.
The main rationale for the OBOR initiative is not only to show the Chinese flag in faraway parts of the world, but also to find markets for its various state-owned enterprises and private companies, which have a substantial amount of excess capacity, and are hungry for newer and larger markets.
The Guardian perhaps identified the Chinese reality accurately, when it stated: “China is now beyond doubt the world’s leader in terms of infrastructure building. Its economic development in the past three decades has been partly driven by massive investments in infrastructure, and the country has obtained valuable experience and expertise in this field.” Clearly, the OBOR initiative represents China’s strategic vision to prolong its remarkable recent history of high economic growth.
An announcement made in January states that China plans to host a Belt and Road forum for international cooperation in Beijing in May this year. This forum will explore ways to address regional and global economic problems, generate fresh energy for interconnected development and ensure that the initiative delivers benefits to people of the countries involved, thereby raising their stakes for the continuation of this initiative well into the distant future.
However, progress of OBOR will not be without serious challenges, doubts and resistance. An article in the New York Times stated that Beijing’s effort to revive ancient trade routes, a plan known as the Belt and Road Initiative is causing geopolitical strains, with countries increasingly worried about becoming too dependent on China. It mentioned the position of several countries which support this view, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey.
Quite naturally, something as ambitious as this plan involving different parts of the globe will not be without major resistance and possible setbacks, but it is obvious that if Beijing succeeds even to half the extent that it envisages, OBOR could turn out to be a game-changer in global economic and geostrategic relations. Perhaps, there is need for an informed debate and discussion on this subject to define India’s role and position vis-à-vis this initiative.
The Indian media has commented on OBOR. For instance, the Hindustan Times published an article with the title, ‘India must join China’s Silk Route Initiative’. It took the view that just as India decided to join the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank, it would make sense for it to come on board with this initiative. The reasoning provided was that the Chinese appear to recognise that India will play a key role in the success of the project and that should give it leverage to shape it in a manner conducive to our interest. It further argued that India needs massive infrastructure investment, and currently China has both surplus capital as well as excess capacity in its infrastructure industry, such as steel, machinery and power.

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