Confucius, the Chinese thinker, philosopher and strategist, lived about 2,500 years ago, but President Xi Jinping, like the rest of his countrymen and women, seems deeply influenced by him. So when representatives of the unrepentant West, like journalists and diplomats, questioned the motives behind Xi’s mega economic project called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s official news agency, Xinhua, quoted Confucius: He who wants success should enable others to succeed. The fact that Xinhua is quoting an ancient thinker is emblematic of how far the Chinese Communist Party has come in its pursuit of influence worldwide.
The BRI may have been launched as a 21st century Chinese iteration of the ancient Silk Road on which Marco Polo travelled, but under Xi’s mentorship, its ambition has grown to rival that of Han or Tang dynasty emperors. With an exclusive $40 billion budget, allocated after $100 billion was already promised by the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, 50 Chinese state-owned corporations have been involved in building 1,700 projects — ports, roads, railway lines and industrial parks — along the BRI route.
One major artery unfurls across the heart of Central Asia and, cutting through Pakistan, will join up with the Maritime Silk Route on the Indian Ocean and into Africa; another route will traverse the Mediterranean and end up in Europe. Annual trade is expected to cross $2.5 trillion and enrich more than a billion people. The scale of the project is staggering. No wonder the world is taking sides. Truth is, no one can ignore what China is up to.
It would be an understatement to say that Delhi is apprehensive about the challenge — the fact that one element of the BRI, called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, passes through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, has certainly served to refocus Delhi’s mind not only on the sovereignty question but also on the differential in power with the dragon next door.
Certainly, the Chinese economy is five times the size of India, which makes the act of cutting a cheque much easier; especially in the poor economies in India’s neighbourhood, the yuan goes a long way. The question is about how Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to deal with its “bitter neighbour in the north,” as erstwhile National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra described China after India’s 1998 nuclear tests. But if Delhi could take a leaf out of Confucius’ book and attempt a reset, some of the mutual antagonism could be contained. After all, he who wants success should enable others to succeed.