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Anurag Kumar asked: Does China's ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative pose any threat to India’s national security?

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  • Jagannath Prasad Panda replies: The primary aim of the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative is to position China as the epicentre of regional as well as global economics and geopolitics. The OBOR has two important components: the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and the Maritime Silk Road (MSR). ‘One Belt’, mainly known as SREB, implies land corridor connectivity from China to Central Asia and West Asia, going all the way to Europe; whereas ‘One Road’, known as MSR, implies maritime connectivity through the Strait of Malacca to India, and onwards to West Asia and East Africa. India, therefore, factors prominently in China’s exposition of the OBOR.

    Given the opaque nature of the OBOR, it doesn’t pose an open threat to India’s national security. But unravelling the details of the OBOR suggests subtle security concerns and challenges for India. In terms of challenge from the SREB, the biggest comes from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is an integral part of SREB. The CPEC project is meant to connect Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Province with the strategic port of Gwadar in Pakistan. India has always been concerned about the China-Pakistan understanding over the Gwadar Port. India may have the Chabahar Port with Iran; yet the volume of financial backing that Gwadar Port receives from China is far superior to what India can match. Further, the CPEC project runs through the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), an integral part of India. It portends that China may emerge as a ‘direct party’ in the Kashmir dispute in future. Even though China has maintained a somewhat ‘neutral’ position on the Kashmir issue in recent years particularly since the Kargil war, terming it mostly as a ‘bilateral historical dispute’, the Chinese pursuit of the CPEC project may impel it to revisit its position on Kashmir in future.

    As for the MSR, it poses two broad challenges to India: First, to India’s presence as a maritime power in the context of the South China Sea and India’s dominance in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR); and, second, to the maritime understanding evolving in the IOR between India and other powers such as the United States (US), Australia and Japan. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations or the ASEAN today expects India to play a larger role. The US too has been urging India to pursue a more active policy in the ASEAN region. The MSR will certainly be testing India’s maritime influence in the region in the coming years.     

    For more on the subject, please refer to my following publications:

    Rumel Dahiya and Jagannath P. Panda, “A Tale of Two Disputes: China’s Irrationality and India’s Stakes”, IDSA Policy Brief, June 29, 2015.  

    Jagannath Panda, “Maritime Silk Road and the India-China Conundrum”, Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, 9 (1), January–March 2014, pp. 23-32.

    Jagannath P. Panda, “China’s Tryst with the IORA: Factoring India and the Indian Ocean”, Strategic Analysis, 38 (5), 2014, pp. 668-687.  

    Posted on August 17, 2015