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China’s “The Belt and Road” project explained; What India should do?

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About “The Belt and Road” project:

  • Also called the Silk Road initiative
  • China unveiled details about it in March 2015
  • It would impact 4.4 billion people and, within a decade, could generate trade above 2.5 trillion dollars
  • The “belt and road” have two components:
    • the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) that would be established along the Eurasian land corridor from the Pacific coast to the Baltic Sea
    • The 21st century Maritime Silk Road (MSR)
  • The “belt and road” would be serviced by a network of roads, high-speed railways, fiber-optical lines, transcontinental submarine optical cable projects, and satellite information passageways.
  • These initiatives would be funded by China led infrastructure banks

Specific plans of the project:

  • SREB will bring together China, Central Asia, Russia and Europe (the Baltic). Links China with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea through Central Asia and West Asia; and connects China with Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Indian Ocean
  • MSR will connect China’s coast to Europe through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean in one route, and China’s coast through the South China Sea to the South Pacific in the other.
  • On land, the initiative will focus on jointly building a new Eurasian Land Bridge and developing China-Mongolia-Russia, China-Central Asia-West Asia and China-Indochina Peninsula economic corridors.
  • Specific gateways/Hubs: They would connect China with other Silk Road economies.
    • Xinjiang province in the west will be the connecting hub for Central, South and West Asian countries. It would be one of the terminals of the Pakistan China economic corridor.
    • Heilongjiang province will become the gateway for Mongolia and Russia’s Far East. The area would be central for the development of the Eurasian high-speed transport corridor linking Beijing with Moscow.
    • China wishes to leverage Tibet’s geographic location for extending a Silk Road node to Nepal.
    • Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and the Yunnan province will establish links with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Yunnan, which borders Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar is ideal for connecting with the Greater Mekong Sub-region, and serve as a pivot to link China with South and Southeast Asia.
    • Yunnan’s provincial capital, Kunming, is the end- point of the proposed Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor, which starts in Kolkata.
  • China also plans to integrate and globalise its inland economies cities like Chongqing, which will be located along the cross-border international Silk Road transportation network.



Strategic Implications:

  • This initiative could shift the center of geo-economic power towards Eurasia instead of Asia-Pacific region which is dominated by US and its allies undermining their “Asia Pivot” strategy seen by Beijing as part of a China-containment policy
  • China asserts that, this initiative could play an important role in “global economic recovery”, as the initiative will lead to better allocation of resources and investment in the Asian region in infrastructure, transport, maritime cooperation, resources and energy.

Implications for India:

  • The BCIM project is a part of the Silk Road initiative, over which India presently seems to have a favourable opinion of. China believes that India’s “Act East” policy has a lot of synergy with the BCIM project
  • China is also willing to link the ‘Belt and Road’ initiatives with India’s ‘Spice Route’ and ‘Mausam’ projects. The ‘Mausam’ project envisages the re-establishment of India’s ancient maritime routes with its traditional trade partners along the Indian Ocean. The ‘Spice Route of India’, visualises the India-centered linkup of historic sea routes in Asia, Europe and Africa.
  • The participation in the Silk Road project and increased Chinese investment in infrastructure projects in India will ease the massive trade deficit
  • Negative: The Maritime Silk road passes through the Indian Ocean and connects many port cities in India’s neighbourhood like Colombo and Gwadar. This India looks as loss of influence over its backyard to its rival-China.

What should India do?

For argument:

  • The Belt and the Road project is a consequence of an economic imperative in China and less to do with a geostrategic perspective. China is structurally transforming its economy from export dependent economy to a consumption led economy. This economic policy is the driving force for the Silk Road initiative and less to do with geo-strategic reasons.
  • Western commentators are sceptical of the strategy and have tended to explain Chinese engagement in its near-neighbourhood especially in its northern neighbourhood to be akin to “Great Power” behaviour and an assertion of its status as an economic power.
  • Indian commentators have been influenced by western commentators and see this initiative as part of China’s String of pearl strategy. These strategic concerns seem to be overblown our neighbours are willingly partnering with China for infrastructure projects
  • India has a lot to gain economically by participating in this initiative. India needs to have an open minded discussion about the consequences of this initiative without any biases.