For god knows how long we have been slumbering to chants of India rising ‘fast’ to ‘soon’ outpace the mightiest. But as the neighbour makes all the noise, the world’s largest democracy stirs and the itch of how grows harder.
India has fared pretty well in the world community and has always stood out for its distinctness. The development of Asia-Pacific to Indo-Pacific is significant, even though America’s objective here, seems more to tease China than recognise India. In a world balanced on power games, just having the proper credentials is not enough – particularly when India has an overpowering China on one side, and insecure Pakistan on the other.
At a time when China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI or the 21st-century silk route that traverses through Europe, Asia and Africa) is aggressively shaping geopolitical equations, and India cannot afford to be far behind.
India started with staying away from the BRI meet, which directly challenges its sovereignty (the flagship project of BRI – China Pakistan Economic Corridor goes through Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, connecting Xinjiang to Gwadar in Pakistan). Many have criticised this move as regressive to India’s growth. Recently, Russia too pitched for India’s participation for its ‘own good’.
All those associating with the sugar daddy’s squad, definitely see BRI as a once-in-a-millennium godsend. The possibility of it coming at a cost (bigger) eludes them, despite doubts being raised over its ‘ambiguous’ design by some like America. Why would they not doubt America itself for its own agendas? Why would they bother about India’s displeasure when the BRI is clearly in conflict with their personal interests?
When countries all around are joining the bandwagon (latest being Maldives), India has to strike a balance between safeguarding its security and increasing its regional and global relevance.
Once India gains a stronger foothold over security, its unchanged stand on BRI would be viewed more objectively. It might then, become clearer to others, that if China can breach the security of one nation (as significant as India), what are the chances it won’t do the same (or worse) in others’ case? What happened in Doklam could be seen as a teaser.
On a national level, the Government of India is working to improve the connectivity of ports, and in turn, have greater control over the Indian Ocean (other than trade) through the Sagar Mala Project. While China is building Pakistan’s Gwadar port, India stands ready with the inauguration of the first phase of Chabahar port. This will open a trade route for India to Afghanistan and larger parts of Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan.
Chabahar could also be India’s muscle power, in case Beijing decides to turn Gwadar port into a naval outpost for the Chinese military.
India has to show its readiness for dialogue, in case of misunderstandings, however. It can’t shy away from taking prompt decisions as and when needed. The 1962 Sino-India war has left a dent too ugly for a replay. Be it India’s plans to develop services in Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota (which was financed by China) in Sri Lanka or connecting ports in Jamnagar (Gujarat) and Djibouti (in Africa where China already has a military base), every step forward, will bring India and China face to face.
All will be in vain if India doesn’t come up with a better (if not bigger) alternative to offer. Efforts are, in fact, on in the direction of creating an international network of alternative routes, where industries and trade could flourish. These are models that could run parallel to and even outshine the BRI.
In this, India’s USP over China could be to ensure the interests of the countries involved and a more consultative approach, in contrast to China that seems more imposing in nature.
There is not one, but many plans running simultaneously to turn this challenge into a staircase to growth. India has ventured to join hands with many stakeholders to come up with a solution that has something for all.
Earlier this year the PM, in partnership with Japan, announced the Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) that aims to enhance growth and connectivity between Asia and Africa. The AAGC unlike the BRI, will be a sea corridor, which will prove to be a bonus on maritime trade and security. The corridor will focus on:
1. Development Cooperation Projects
2. Quality Infrastructure and Institutional Connectivity
3. Enhancing Skills
4. People to people partnership
India and Japan’s contribution (India’s human resource development and Japan’s state of art technology) can subdue if not knock out Chinese presence in Africa.
Meanwhile, India’s Act East Policy has fallen in line with America’s Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor which seeks to connect India with South Asia, South East Asia and East Asia, through Myanmar (and possibly eclipse China efforts at the same).
Then there is the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) that met last month, after a decade. It has aimed to sustain ‘maritime security in Indo-Pacific’ and check North Korea’s ‘nuclear missile programmes’. Under this as US, India, Japan and Australia together vowed to ‘uphold respect of international law and rules-based order’. China shivered a little seeing itself as the in the unnamed target. In the context of Beijing’s disputed claims on the South China Sea, meetings like these have increased China’s consciousness.
While India needs to make its presence felt in the region and deal with China head on, surely it is not seeking to ruffle the dragon’s feathers unnecessarily.
New Delhi is, in fact, trying to maintain fluid communication with Beijing, as gaining momentum would not be effective without China’s support. There are common grounds on which both the countries can connect: One being the recently held trilateral talks with Russia and China, to discuss global issues of terror and extremism (the first Chinese visit after Doklam). However, China has to understand that its highly unlikely that it itself, will never be ailed by the terrorism it today turns its back to and even seems to support often.
Though China has had opposing views on the aforesaid matter, the meeting ended on a neutral note.
Who knows, if Beijing becomes more farsighted, India and China could team up and outdo the West that has forever been the dictating the East.