A road to nowhere
Distrust is a dangerous thing. Once it creeps in, it often spreads like a disease. It is not healthy either as it prevents any logical progression and thwarts all efforts of forging genuine bonds. This is applicable not only to human relationships but also to nations. Once distrust sets in, all other constructive progression stops in its tracks. No surprise then that India and China are unable to leave the pains of the past and move forward together on the road to economic cooperation. A fact highlighted once again as India boycotted the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum hosted by Beijing last month.
India's concerns are not unfounded. The $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), under the BRI, passes through Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK). But when all the other nations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) have come together to participate in the BRI, India finds itself increasingly isolated on the subject. China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, Pakistan, all members of the SCO, support BRI.
Observer and partner nations such as Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, Mongolia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey also support the Chinese President Xi Jingping's vision. Even the US and Japan have shown interest in the project.
Therefore, it is becoming increasingly important that if we must continue to be part of the SCO and use it to our advantage, then India must rethink its approach towards the BRI. India, in its official stand, states that it remains a believer in physical connectivity but in "an equitable and balanced manner". Security concerns and the possibility of ceding strategic advantage to Pakistan and China, both nations that we deal with sceptically, are the main worries that stand in India's way.
The question, therefore, is: will India give up the opportunity of partnering a historic infrastructure project? Should we be keeping an eye on the niggling issues such as China's opposition to India's membership at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)? Should we step aside while the BRI connects 60 countries, 60 per cent of global population, and attracts collective investments between $4 trillion - $8 trillion? Or should we at least keep an open mind and negotiate our participation? Former foreign secretary Shivshankar recently said that the BRI "represents an opportunity for India. Even if some portion of what is proposed in the BRI is implemented, it will markedly change the economic and strategic landscape within which we operate." The BRI would provide much-needed connectivity between Indian exporters and targeted European markets.
After India pulled out of the BRI, Global Times, a Chinese Daily, said in an op-ed that geopolitical bias is blinding India to the benefits of BRI. "The reality is China's expanding cooperation is driven by China's economic growth. In fact, more and more Chinese enterprises are interested in investing in India. If New Delhi can understand China's connectivity initiative from the perspective of regional development, this will help enhance mutual trust between the two countries," the op-ed said. If China is indeed marching ahead keeping only economic growth in mind, then I wonder, can't India also keep an eye over her shoulder but do the same?
We find ourselves in an enviable position compared to China. Our economy may have been temporarily hit due to demonisation but chances of a rebound are imminent. China, on the other hand, is grappling with a slowdown. Being at an advantage we should try to negotiate for favourable infrastructure projects under the BRI without completely pulling the plug. Infrastructure and regional development can only further benefit a country like ours.
But no matter how the negotiations are conducted, it's imperative that there must be negotiations. We must push forward the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor, which is closely connected to the BRI. We can't afford to close our mind and shut our eyes to the benefits of the BRI. It is also poignant to remember that given the uncertainty of global geopolitics in recent times, especially in the western world, hope and strength must come from Asian countries such as India and China. And this can't be achieved without transparent dialogue that builds trust and cooperation among nations in the region. India and China working together has to be the future of global geopolitics.
(The writer is a journalist and a media entrepreneur. Views expressed are strictly personal.)