In a move that could potentially counter China’s Belt and Road initiative, the United States revived two major infrastructure projects in South and Southeast Asia, the ‘New Silk Road’ project, and the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor. India is involved in both projects as a major player. An outline of the two initiatives, which were made available in the Trump administration’s maiden annual budget on Tuesday, indicated that the NSR initiative would be a public-private project with India as a key player.
The NSR project, which was first announced by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a speech in Chennai in 2011, focuses on Afghanistan and its neighbours. When Clinton announced her vision for the NSR, she had said, “Turkmen gas fields could help meet both Pakistan’s and India’s growing energy needs and provide significant transit revenues for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tajik cotton could be turned into Indian linens. Furniture and fruit from Afghanistan could find its way to the markets of Astana or Mumbai and beyond.”
The US state department said “the importance of… The NSR grows” as the transitory phase in Afghanistan continues, and the US “strives to help the Afghan people succeed and stand on their own”, adding that it would deepen its support for these objectives through “far-reaching” public diplomacy programmes. The department said the budgetary request of its South and Central Asia would support both the NSR and the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor, which links South Asia with Southeast Asia, which would take place through side-by-side collaboration with countries of the region, other bilateral donors, multilateral development banks, and the private sector.
James McBride of the Council on Foreign Relations, said that NSR would include joint investment projects and regional trade blocs that could potentially bring economic growth and stability to Central Asia. “Following the surge of 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan in 2009, which President Barack Obama’s administration had hoped would lay the groundwork for complete withdrawal a few years later, Washington began to lay out a strategy for supporting these initiatives through diplomatic means,” he said.
China’s B&R initiative aims to link the country with European and African markets through Asian countries and the Indian Ocean. India opposes one project under the OBOR, as it runs through Gilgit and Baltistan which fall in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor links China’s restive Xinjiang region to the southern Pakistani port Gwadar, built with Chinese funding, and the port could potentially be used as a naval outpost for the Chinese military.