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Parth Sharma asked: What are India's principal objections on BRI, apart from her sovereign claims vis-à-vis CPEC?

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  • Abhay Kumar Singh replies: China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is one of the most imaginative and ambitious programmes ever to be rolled out by a government. It represents a broad strategy for China’s economic cooperation and an expanded presence in Asia, Africa, and Europe. BRI has been presented by China as a win-win initiative for all participating nations. At a broader level, the idea of enhancing connectivity across Asia and between Asia and Europe resonates with India’s approach towards regional cooperation. However, there exist significant areas of dissonance between India and China on BRI, in addition to India’s objections originating from sovereignty concerns vis-à-vis China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

    • BRI is a Chinese initiative, rather than a multilateral enterprise, undertaken without sufficient consultations with potential partner countries including India.
    • Through BRI, China aims to utilise its surplus industrial and economic capacity for regional connectivity projects and seek new growth engines for its slowing economy. While it may bring some benefits to partner countries, it also has a strategic and political agenda which remains opaque.
    • India's concern also relates to the Chinese strategic ambitions that underpin BRI. The geostrategic essence of BRI has been aptly described by Ambassador Shyam Saran, India’s former foreign secretary, as a conceptual application of precepts advocated by Mackinder, Mahan and Sun Tzu. He argues that the Belt, designed to secure Eurasia, indicates the influence of Mackinder; and the Road, which straddles the oceans, enabling maritime ascendancy, is indispensable in pursuit of Mahanian hegemony. The intertwining of harmony and hierarchy in the BRI concept echoes Sun Tzu.
    • India has also flagged apprehensions about lack of transparency and financial viability of mega infrastructure projects envisaged under BRI, along with resultant risks of financial instability in the region.

    Last year, many experts had warned about India’s impending isolation due to her nonparticipation in BRI. A year since the Belt and Road forum, India's stand on BRI appears increasingly vindicated with the spectre of BRI induced debt trap looming over countries in the region including the early backers, viz. Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Concerns about financial risks have also led to rethinking about ongoing BRI projects in Malaysia and Myanmar. India’s concerns about underlying strategic design of BRI have also found resonance among major powers across the globe.

    Posted on August 03, 2018