Belt and Road initiative (BRI) or One Belt One Road (OBOR) project is the most ambitious multi-billion dollar foreign policy programme of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Under this multidimensional project China plans to invest billions of dollars in building infrastructure projects in the countries along the old Silk Road linking it with Europe. China has planned to spend roughly $150bn a year in the 68 countries that have signed up to the scheme. The summit meeting (called a forum), held in June 2017, attracted the largest number of foreign dignitaries to Beijing since the Olympic Games in 2008. Yet, the biggest and one of the most powerful neighbour of China that is India has not only raised several criticisms of the project but also decided to boycotted the summit meeting over its concerns related with the proposed China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC), which forms a critical part of BRI. India’s response to BRI has come in the form of various measures that it has taken since then and even before that to contain Chinese hegemony in the region. India sees BRI not merely as an economic project but more crucially as a geo-strategic project. Chinese unilateralism is what defines this project, according to India. This article seeks to examine India’s various alternative projects to the BRI.
Project “Mausam” one of the earliest responses by India to counter Chinese BRI. It is a Ministry of Culture project with Archaeological Society of India (ASI), New Delhi as the nodal agency and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi as its Research Unit. The idea behind Project ‘Mausam’ is to position itself at two levels: at the macro level it aims to re-connect and re-establish communications between countries of the Indian Ocean, which would lead to an enhanced understanding of cultural values and concerns; while at the micro level the focus is on understanding national cultures in their regional maritime milieu. Through this multi dimensional project India plans to make use of its historical linkages with the states of Indian Ocean Region to forge a maritime alliance based on mutual respect and cooperation. Just like ancient Silk Route is an historical reality, it is also a fact that in the ancient times trade across Asia-Africa and Europe took place along monsoonal winds.
International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), initiated by Russia in the year 2000, is yet another alternative before India to enhance inter-continental connectivity. This immense multi-modal connectivity project aims to link India to Russia, and Europe via Iran and Central Asia. Thus INSTC envisages the movement of goods from Mumbai, India to Bandar Abbas,Iran, by sea from Bandar Abbas to Bandar-E-Anzali,an Iranian port on the Caspian sea, by road, from Bandar-E-Anzali to Astrakhan, a Caspian port in the Russian Federation, by ship across the Caspian sea, and thereafter into Russian Federation and further into Europe by Russian Railways. With the operationalization of Chabahar port recently, INSTC must be integrated with it for optimizing benefits from enhanced connectivity. According to some estimates, the Chabahar route plus INSTC could boost trade to a total of US$ 170 billion from India to Eurasia (60 billion in export and 107 billion in import).
Asia-Africa Growth Corridor
AAGC is a joint effort of India and Japan to link Asia with Africa. Indian experience of working in Africa which has earned it a considerable goodwill and its cheap labour accompanied with Japanese cutting edge technology and investment is a near-perfect blend required to unleash the unlocked potential of Africa. Through AAGC, India and Japan ought to bring about socio-economic development in Africa. AAGC will also act as a counter to Chinese influence in Africa as hitherto China has enjoyed a near monopoly over Africa. China has made heavy investments in Africa, and now it will face stiff competition from India and Japan through AAGC.
Besides these big projects, there are various other initiatives that India has proposed to China. These include projects like Kaladan river project between India and Myanmar, BBIN that is Bangladesh,Bhutan, India and Nepal connectivity project between these four nations, Trans-Asian Railway Corridor etc.
Lack of Finance – An Impediment in India
Indian economy is worth $2.5 trillion whereas Chinese economy is worth $12 trillion. China is the largest trading partner of around 90 countries including the US and EU and has plenty of surplus capital to invest in foreign countries. Unfortunately, India is still a developing nation and it just doesn’t have enough resources. China can afford to invest billions of dollars in various countries whereas India simply cannot. Thus economic constraints constitute the biggest impediment in realization of India’s ambitious alternatives. Secondly, the slow pace of implementation harms India’s credibility. This is something which is typical to India domestically as well. Red-tapism and extreme and elaborate bureaucratic-administrative mechanism prevents proposed projects from seeing the light of the day. In countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka particularly, Indian companies have lost several bids to Chinese companies due to various administrative delays. Thirdly, Pakistan acts a stumbling block by preventing access to Afghanistan, Iran and energy rich Central Asian countries.
In totality, it is a reality that India has limited options at its disposal to counter ambitious Chinese BRI. So, it must make optimum use of all its diplomatic and economic resources to contain Chinese imperialism. An alliance with regional countries like Japan, etc can is one such option. Similarly, India needs to revamp it’s neighbourhood policy as it cannot allow China to make inroads into Indian subcontinent. Also, a major foreign policy challenge in the coming days before India will be to prevent itself from being isolated if BRI sees the light of the day.
-Contributed by Kunwar Suryansh
Picture Credits: economist.com