Monday, June 14, 2021

Chinese Gambit

On the face of it, China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) initiative looks like an innocuous trans-regional project to promote trade. However, behind the veneer of business connectivity lurks its hegemonic ambition to dominate the region and shape a new world order. No wonder then that India has stayed away from the high profile OBOR summit being hosted by Beijing. This serves to demonstrate New Delhi’s displeasure over the $46 billion China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is the key component of the OBOR. The CPEC is totally unacceptable to India as it runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). The CPEC, which aims at linking South Western Pakistani city of Gwadar to China’s Xinjiang region through a vast network of highways and railways, passes through Balochistan which Pakistan had occupied forcibly in 1948. China’s brazen disregard for sovereignty concerns repeatedly expressed by India has soured the bilateral relations. The CPEC will dramatically alter the region’s demographic composition and reduce Gilgit-Baltistan to a tinderbox of ethnic and sectarian conflict with grave security consequences for the region. While China has always been very assertive about matters concerning its sovereignty, be it Tibet or Taiwan, it has failed to appreciate India’s concerns over CPEC which traverses through disputed territory. If the choice is between trade connectivity and sovereignty, any self-respecting nation would choose the latter. It is only by respecting the sovereignty of countries involved can any regional connectivity corridor fulfil its promise.

Those who argue that India would benefit by joining China-led multilateral infrastructure initiatives forget the fact that sovereignty and territorial integrity override commercial considerations. In fact, New Delhi never shied away from active participation in improving regional connectivity with Myanmar’s Kaladan project, Iran’s Chabahar port and north-south corridor with Russia being the shining examples. What China is attempting through the $ 5 trillion OBOR is to increase its footprint and influence the geopolitics in South Asian region and beyond. Already, Beijing’s persistent moves to block India’s entry into Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the United Nation’s ban on Pakistan-based terror mastermind Masood Azhar have soured the bilateral ties. Beijing is building islands in South China Sea, contesting territorial claims of neighbours in the East China Sea, and even aspires for greater control of the Malacca Straits. It is now building a massive network of ports, roads, bridges, military facilities and bases along the CPEC route which would eventually alter the region’s demographic composition. If India yields to trade temptations and joins the OBOR initiative, particularly the CPEC, it would amount to accepting the status quo in Kashmir and giving Pakistan more leverage on this key bilateral issue. Also, it would negate India’s efforts to isolate Pakistan on terrorism front.

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