The balancing act of handling the Chinese threat along with economic development goals is a leitmotif in the Indo-Chinese geopolitical landscape. The ongoing Belt Road Forum (BRF) hosted by Beijing has presented a similar situation where India has to carry on with this balancing act. The conference has brought, barring India and Bhutan, all south Asian countries onboard its One Belt One Road project which aims to connect Asia, Africa and Europe via land and maritime routes.
India’s concerns surround sovereignty as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which forms a part of the OBOR, runs through Indian sovereign territory of Kashmir.
Bhutan has no diplomatic ties with China and hence it is only India that is holding its ground. For its political differences and strategic concerns, it is imperative for India to not budge from its position as it would count as a submissive acceptance of the CPEC. The territory through which the corridor passes would hence be perceived as Pakistani territory by India’s western neighbour and its all-weather friend–China.
India refused to send a delegation to the conference thereby maintaining its position against the belt and road project. Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar spoke like a true diplomat when he stated that the relationship between India and China could be “mutually supportive”.
China has pumped in at least $46 billion of investment into Pakistan for the CPEC project and it would seem very difficult to believe that China would withdraw now. The OBOR project is essentially part of China’s expansionist designs starting with Asia. What some call a move on economic diplomacy, the belt and road project would give India massive headaches as the immediate fallout will be increased ease of cooperative action between Pakistan and Chinese forces. Also, worryingly, the Chinese Army will get deeper access and deployment in Kashmir.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi articulated a model of harmonious India-China relations when he said the key lies in “respect and sensitivity for each other’s core interests”. However, it should not be forgotten that behind the generic statements lies a situation of tension. Both countries seem to want the tension to subside, albeit with different endings to the story.
For China, it seems one of the most crucial projects would be CPEC’s completion to give Beijing access to the Gwadar port in Pakistan. A scenario that concerns India as it poses a situation of double flanked threats from Beijing.
The stalemate, it seems, would not be resolved soon and staying away from the conference seems a wise move at the moment. Both neighbours share a highly strategic relationship spun around economic cooperation. But it could take some hard work from Beijing’s side to end this impasse in South Asia.
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