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Utkarsh Dwivedi asked: Can India's International North-South Transport Corridor be a counter to China's Belt and Road Initiative?

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  • Meena Singh Roy replies: The International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is not a counter to China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). INSTC was conceived long before BRI came into picture. INSTC is a join initiative taken by India, Russia and Iran. The ‘Inter-Governmental Agreement on International “North-South” Transport Corridor’ was signed by the three countries in Saint Petersburg on September 12, 2000. It was subsequently ratified by the three signatory states and has been in force since May 16, 2002. Azerbaijan became the fourth member in 2005. Since then many countries have joined INSTC. Currently, there are fourteen members and many more are willing to be a part of it – Finland, Estonia and Latvia have also expressed their interest in joining INSTC. Turkmenistan may not be a formal member but is linked to it. There is a possibility of future expansion of INSTC to Southeast Asia as well.

    As specified in the ‘Inter-Governmental Agreement’, the main objectives of INSTC are “increasing effectiveness of transport ties in order to organise goods and passenger transport along the international ‘North-South’ Transport Corridor”; “promotion of access to the international market through rail, road, sea, river and air transport of the state Parties to this Agreement”; “providing security of travel, safety of goods as well as environmental protection”; and “harmonisation of transport policies as well as law and legislative basis in the field of transport for the purpose of implementing this Agreement.”

    BRI, on the other hand, is basically a Chinese initiative, first proposed in September 2013. While INSTC is a collective effort of countries, BRI is a single country plan encompassing countries across Eurasia, Africa and more than 60 partner countries. Both the projects are completely different in scale and size and also in terms of financial resources as well as their overall objectives. In fact, it would not be fair to compare the two projects. Chinese geostrategic goals are embedded in their infrastructure drive under BRI, and one can also see the trust deficit between China and its BRI partner countries.

    However, both the projects are exposed to many challenges. In fact, there are points where INSTC and BRI do seem to criss-cross each other. An important question to be raised here would be, if there can be any coordination or cooperation between the two and if yes how?

    Posted on August 14, 2019

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.