OBOR is the grandest failure of Indian foreign policy

India’s objection to CPEC is extremely valid, but the moot point remains that we were not able to carry any of the big powers on the vital question of Westphalian sovereignty.

Written by Manish Tewari | New Delhi | Updated: May 17, 2017 2:21 pm
Narendra Modi, Modi three years, OBOR, Xi Jinping, India China ties, India South east ties, Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Vigyan Bhawan. Express Photo by Renuka Puri

As the Narendra Modi government completes three years of its tryst with electoral destiny on May 16, it could not have wished for a more portentous international conference in far, but yet nearby, Beijing.

The One Belt One Road conference convened by the People’s Republic of China over the weekend to unveil and showcase the most ambitious connectivity project of modern times represents the grandest failure of Indian foreign policy and it’s quarantine into splendid isolation. However, first a word about the project.

Watch: Opinion | CPEC: Chinese Colonisation of Pakistan?

Chinese president Xi Jinping, in 2013, unveiled a novel economic structure that would connect China’s Silk Road Mercantile Belt project in Central Asia with its Maritime Silk Road, through linked bodies of water from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean. In principle, these trade stratagems centre on increasing China’s connection with countries along the ancient Silk Road in Eurasia, while creating a new Silk Road across Asia to South Asia and Africa.

One part of the project is focused on the creation of road connections between China and Eurasia, involving infrastructure projects such as highways and rail links. The other part of the project concerns maritime routes that will connect China with South East Asia, South Asia and ports up and down the east coast of Africa.

The measure of this concept, if it ever reaches fruition, is both the project’s greatest hawking point and conceivable trial. The trade links once established will cover 65 per cent of the world’s population, one-third of global GDP and a quarter of all goods and services in the international economy.

Narendra Modi, Modi three years, OBOR, Xi Jinping, India China ties, India South east ties, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping before delegation level talks, in New Delhi. File/Express Photo by Anil Sharma.

Such a focus of goods and services will upturn how conventional products, such as energy, are traded. Observers draw parallels with the Marshall Plan that reinvented Europe post the Second World War. With enormous sums of money, ranging from $ 800 billion to $1 trillion to be invested over the next five years, there is a lot of cash to spread around, even in China’s extended neighbourhood.

In comparison, the investment into the Pakistani component of this initiative, the Chinese Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), anywhere between $46-62 billion, is a mere pittance.

The summit in Beijing over the weekend was attended by 29 heads of states and governments which included Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Sri Lankan PM Ranil Wickermasinghe, delegations from all other South Asian countries barring Bhutan, as well as leaders and officials from the big boys on the global stage, namely Russia, US, Japan, UK, Germany and France.

That is where India’s lack of nimbleness became counterproductive. While our objection to the CPEC is extremely valid — that it passes through territory acceded to India by the erstwhile Maharaja of Jammu Kashmir, Hari Singh, on October 26,1947 and whatever is in the possession of Pakistan is illegally occupied — the moot point remains that we were not able to carry any of the big powers, including the US, and especially our neighbors along on the vital question of Westphalian sovereignty.

By boycotting the summit rather than showing up and making our voice heard loud and clear in the comity of nations, India has in fact sent out a message that it will make proforma noise on this issue but actually acquiesce to the fait accompli.

What this lack of dexterity does is allow the Chinese embrace of Pakistan to get even tighter. A front page exclusive in Pakistan’s ‘Dawn’ newspaper for the first time revealed to Pakistanis themselves the extent of Chinese colonisation this project would entail. But given the desperate, if not perilous, situation that Pakistan finds itself in, it would be surprising if there is any substantive protest by any section of the population.

A strategic relationship transformed into an economic vested interest means that India cannot bank upon Chinese neutrality in case of a possible conflict with Pakistan – which India may blunder into as the BJP-led government works overtime to use the Kashmir flashpoint to drive home the otherness of the citizens to the rest of India.

A two-front situation may become an unfortunate imperative that India may just have to deal with, given the fact China is revising its position on accepted principles with regard to the territorial dispute with India, in the protracted but ongoing Special Representative process.

With Gwadar becoming operational, China would be able to surmount its Malacca Dilemma — that is pump and transport it’s energy and mineral resources directly to Kashgar as they exit the Straits of Hormuz — thereby circumventing the Malacca chokepoint.

The fact remains that India would have to deal with Pakistani and Chinese navies jointly patrolling the Arabian Sea off India’s western seaboard and directly threatening India’s energy and resource supply lines. The story does not end there. With Hambantota also being developed as a Chinese resourced port in Sri Lanka, the Gwadar-Hamabantota axis may end up emerging as an access denial area in India’s home waters.

Narendra Modi, Modi three years, OBOR, Xi Jinping, India China ties, India South east ties, Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina on her arrival in New Delhi. Express Photo by Prem Nath Pandey

Then there is the eastern headache, which is the growing Chinese proximity to Nepal and Bangladesh, as well as the deep economic linkages with Myanmar. While Sheikh Hasina’s government is very friendly towards India, that may not be the permanent state of play. There is a perception in the Bangladesh polity, especially the principal opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), that India has put all its eggs into one basket.

Given the strained relations with Nepal post the economic blockade of 2015, Kathmandu’s propensity to explore other options especially energises the torturous land route with China.

While all this infrastructure development has been in the works for a while, where the Modi government has tripped badly is in its inability to tread the fine balance between the big powers. Though it’s perceived cosiness towards the US has not borne any tangible fruit in the past three years, what it has achieved is to drive both Russia and China into a state of ambivalence and antagonism, respectively. There is no better evidence of this than the recent Russian-Pakistani defense exercises, a first in 70 years.

It is therefore in India’s larger national interest to not allow the China-Pakistan embrace to turn into its greatest strategic nightmare. India must finesse it’s relationship with China, for there are other implications, namely in Afghanistan.

This is only one of the great blunders over the past three years. The others will follow in the days to come.

The writer is a lawyer, a former Union Minister in the UPA government and Distinguished Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council, Washington D.C., USA. He tweets @manishtewari

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  1. S
    sunanda
    May 21, 2017 at 10:10 am
    #BACK OFF INDIA#
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    1. D
      Dash
      May 21, 2017 at 2:12 am
      China is ahead of is only because of Cong. They opened their econom in 19y8 where as Indira ji kept is poor through licence permit quota raj. Gareebi hatao was a legalized scam to keep India poor to get votes. Nehruvian socialism kept us poor. This tiwari should stop lecturing now.
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      1. P
        Prashant
        May 17, 2017 at 10:04 pm
        I think it is a good decision of India to boycott obor summit the development of China is totally depend on "made in China" program and India needs such type of program like "make in India" we become a self dependent country where there is no interference of other country like china
        Reply
        1. D
          Daleep
          May 17, 2017 at 7:44 pm
          The congress needs to introspect that most of the ills befal this great Nation are their doing. They want to be judgemental for three years period, without owning the sixty years they ed around.
          Reply
          1. P
            Prem
            May 17, 2017 at 8:47 pm
            Cool story, bro. But we didn't see anyone from the congress sharing a swing with Xi or visiting the terracotta army.
            Reply
          2. S
            Sam
            May 17, 2017 at 7:35 pm
            Your article is absolutely wrong. That stani prime minister has literally sold his motherland and u call that development.. whereas narendra Modi is protecting our lands and u term it failure.. shame on u. U wil not realise that unless u have a jihadi and y bombing in front of ur house in the name of development. I pray it happens to u for writing this misleading article
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            1. N
              Neelabh Sangwan
              May 17, 2017 at 5:53 pm
              I dont think so...what you expect that India should be a party to project which openly hits upon the sovereignty of India..???
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              1. G
                Gururaj Narayan
                May 17, 2017 at 3:09 pm
                Manish Tewari's article is very well reasoned. He points out the negative fallout of not parti ting in OBIR conference, without examining the Indian justification for not parti ting. OBOR is essentially a project which benefits China. Other countries become China's suppliers. That not parti ting in OBOR is the g est failure of India's foreign policy seems rather hyperbolic.
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                1. V
                  Vera Ferreira
                  May 17, 2017 at 2:55 pm
                  OBOR and CPEC will destroy the Natural equilibrium, Social life of Villages and Peace as well. Ask Africa about what Chinese are doing in their lands after "colonizing" them... Pak is playing with its own sovereignty ! Remember, Chinese are communists and do not understand God ! They do not believe in God. And, Hindus and Muslims have in common : They believe in God. Sincerely saying, better to have an Indian / Hindu as a neighbour for a muslim than a chinese non-believer, money greedy and a dangerous back-stabber... Just wait and See how China will make you pay back all his investments in Pak ! You have escaped british colony but you will not escape Chinese colony !
                  Reply
                  1. R
                    Rishi
                    May 17, 2017 at 1:55 pm
                    The writer is Manish Tewari, Congressman. opposition party. He has to critisis, thats his bread and butter. His views may be taken with a pinch of salt. Modi government's policies get validated each time the BJP wins the state elections. There is no better test for the popularity test than an minor election. How Manish tewari accepts Rahul hi as his boss in the Congress is difficult for 1.3B Indians to comprehend. Better to call a spade a spade at times. Regarding China the Indo/Sino relations have been on a difficult footing for a long long time. It cannot be solved soon. Even Manish tewari's original super bosses; Nehruji & Indira ji had tough uneasy relations with China going back over 60 years
                    Reply
                    1. R
                      Rishi
                      May 17, 2017 at 1:53 pm
                      The writer is Manish Tewari, Congressman. opposition party. He has to critisis, thats his bread and butter. His views may be taken with a pinch of salt. Modi government's policies get validated each time the BJP wins the state elections. There is no better test for the popularity test than an minor election. How Manish tewari excepts Rahul hi as his boss in the Congress is difficult for 1.3B Indians to comprehend. Better to call a spade a spade at times. Regarding China the Indo/Sino relations have been on a difficult footing for a long long time. It cannot be solved soon. Even Manish tewari's original super bosses; Nehruji & Indira ji had tough uneasy relations with China
                      Reply
                      1. B
                        Bihari Krishna
                        May 17, 2017 at 12:46 pm
                        India's refusal to take part in OBOR initiative does indeed amount to her monumental foreign policy failure. While, population-wise India is the second biggest country in the world, nobody takes her seriously for the simple fact that it remains an impoverished nation even after 70 years of independence, the latest media reporting being that in Maharastra alone, a farmer kills himself every three hours. So, India's number one priority, nationally and internationally, must be to end her massive poverty affecting some 800 million of is 1.3 billion people that will also gain her sufficient international respectability. So, OBOR offered India just such opportunity that draws in every single poverty-stricken household into a process of sustained development. Russia and China once fought at their border, but today, they are the closest of friends. In short, India must revamp its foreign policy apparatus to lend fresh breath to it and not let the opportunities p by
                        Reply
                        1. K
                          Kin Ho Wong
                          May 19, 2017 at 2:37 pm
                          Your voice is one of the rare but sensible. You are absolutely right. Beating the chest feels good, only when you are strong and have big enough muscle. Modi is a fool indeed.
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                        2. A
                          Anil G
                          May 17, 2017 at 8:17 am
                          Worst is, Stan's news media 'Dawn' is referencing this article to support their view against India. Who the allow's these Congis to put their rubbish on paper.
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                            RK Manchanda
                            May 17, 2017 at 3:14 am
                            If you have trillions of dollers stashed and fetching no returns then you can loan them to all other coutries and make quick bucks but owning the land and infrastructure in other countries is called take over. That is what is OBOR. It looks that mr Manish Tiwary is the only guy who understands politics. He should know that China is already land connected to Europe via Russia. Most of the guys came to eat and drink and have photos. All of them know the political implications of OBOR
                            Reply
                            1. R
                              Rajendrareddy
                              May 16, 2017 at 7:16 pm
                              Most interesting part of any article ever penned by any congi is this comment section..😂
                              Reply
                              1. J
                                Jagat Rathore
                                May 16, 2017 at 6:46 pm
                                Still speaking with "His Masters Voice" like a loyal dynasty sycophant - does anyone even care what this person said.
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                                1. D
                                  DK
                                  May 16, 2017 at 6:27 pm
                                  ic reasoning of a chronically failed party with a blighted history. The Indian people are smarter than these Congressi netas. Tiwari should go back to Rahul puja.
                                  Reply
                                  1. R
                                    Raman Govindan
                                    May 16, 2017 at 5:39 pm
                                    our foreign policy has been a failure since independence right from the time of Nehru on wards! it was partly due to Nehru but also to clash of civilizations refer Samuel P. Huntington we do not belong to middle east islamic civilizatiions, nor Western European or eastern orthodox orthodox, group nor the east Asian confucious cultural group. . we tread on our own path. Westerm world was sympathetic, understanding and had a lot good will for our multi cultural way of life and democracy around independence. but Nehru and Menon made it a point to destroy it. the other groups have more strength in UN by number of votes or strategically placed in geography. our strength under such conditions should have been placed on industries, business, literacy, science and advanced technologies. but Nehru and his dynasties failed all the 75 years of their stewardship of the nation.and it still affects us. BJP's Hindudutwa and Hinditwa were an offshoot of their failure.
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                                    1. H
                                      Hair
                                      May 16, 2017 at 4:51 pm
                                      congressi. Does not have one iota of nationalism and pride. Indian express should not publish such article. I interact Chinese. On everyday basis they show great nationalism, why cannot we Indians not united. It is the best move by Indian government in long time.
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                                      1. F
                                        Faqeel
                                        May 16, 2017 at 4:20 pm
                                        How will Bhakts react very valid points raised in the article? Of course; by attacking the author! They care more for their party than the nation.
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                                          RH
                                          May 16, 2017 at 7:21 pm
                                          What else can we expect from Bhakts? Whatever their Lord does is the best.
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                                        2. C
                                          Chep
                                          May 16, 2017 at 4:10 pm
                                          Rising population,global conectivuty,green gas emissions eco systm fragile and one cannot damage the environment in the name of trade expansion as tsunamis, excessive rainfall and perenial drought will halt unthinable g oise plan og china
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                                          1. M
                                            M
                                            May 16, 2017 at 4:27 pm
                                            i think the writer is a most illiterate as well as against the wind or mood of our nation(that's why u people defeated in last election). China regularly making and creating a barrier for us in an international arena. Take case of Masoor Azahar where daily soldiers are killed in Kashmir and China demanding technical evidence on Azhar to ban it. talk about NSG, where eveRy nation including ex-prez Obama tries hard for us to including India , but it is China , Turkey and Pak who betra us and its a one type of insult for nation. But, u congressi never going to understand the pain of insult as u need only power to rule. U have enough time before 2019 election to change your perception otherwise ready for m wipe out. I am not favour of BJP or any party, I am favour of my nation.
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                                            Anil
                                            May 16, 2017 at 4:05 pm
                                            A lot of India's problems with China are the handiwork of Tewari's dynastic mothers and fathers. We know that MMS would have suc bed and bent low to greet Xi Xingping. Agreed it's not going to be easy for India but the best we could have done was to keep our dignity and keep away. No matter who attends Xi's g show, few would be very happy from within, knowing that China gives away nothing for free. The price may be terrible for the smaller countries. At least India showed far more guts than Trump's America for whom China suddenly is NOT a currency manipulator.
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