India should embrace China's Belt & Road Initiative for win-win development
By Rabi Sankar Bosu
In his keynote speech at the opening session of the 47th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos on January 17 this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China will host the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in Beijing this May to brainstorm about interconnected development. The forthcoming Forum will be the most important international gathering to better build consensus and advance cooperation, as its theme suggests, "Cooperation for Common Prosperity". With its guiding principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, the Belt and Road Initiative (also known as 'One Belt, One Road' initiative) has become the engine for the future of globalization. It is against narrow-minded protectionism and isolationism.
Regarding the reason of hosting such type of international conference on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI),Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told at a press conference on the sidelines of the fifth session of China's 12th National People's Congress (NPC) on March 8, 2017: "The Forum will explore ways to address regional and global economic problems, generate fresh energy for interconnected development and ensure that the initiative delivers benefits to people of the countries involved, thereby raising their stakes for the continuation of this initiative well into the distant future."
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, was first promulgated by President Xi Jinping in the autumn of 2013. In his historic speech titled "Promote People-to-People Friendship and Create a Better Future" at Kazakhstan's Nazarbayev University on September 7, 2013, President Xi proposed to join hands building a Silk Road Economic Belt with innovative cooperation mode and to make it a grand cause benefiting people in regional countries along the route. He envisioned a trade and infrastructure network that connects Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road routes under the rubric of "a new type of international relations underpinned by win-win cooperation." The BRI is a Chinese solution of oriental wisdom designed to pursue common prosperity and development.
Since debuting, the BRI has become the most popular public goods and the best platform for international cooperation with the brightest prospects in the world. Some Chinese analysts have dubbed the Initiative "the number one project under heaven" which is not an empty slogan. Though the idea of the BRI came from China but it belongs to the world with its benefits flowing to all countries. It is fair to say that this Chinese initiative, over the past three years and more, is delivering benefits to various countries and their people along the route.
The BRF has attracted an increasing amount of attention from the international community since President Xi Jinping announced it at the Davos Forum in January. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told at a press conference in Beijing on March 21, 2017 that more than 20 heads of state and government, over 50 leaders of international organizations, over 100 ministerial-level officials, as well as over 1,200 delegates from various countries and regions will participate in the Belt and Road forum for international cooperation from May 14 to 15. The upcoming gathering is "supported by most of China's peripheral countries, notably Russia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Pakistan." Unfortunately, India hasn't yet decided on its representation at the summit. By not joining the BRI, India is missing out an opportunity for economic development that the BRI has to offer.
While more and more countries are joining China's BRI, India's insistence on keeping a distance from this megaproject is quite conundrum. Ever since China launched BRI, Indian reluctance to join the BRI program is tantamount to cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. India sees the Chinese infrastructure enterprise as a geopolitical competition.
In fact, India's current detachment from the BRI is a contradictory mentality. Actually, India sees the flagship BRI connectivity project as a tool for China to consolidate its influence in Asia, Europe and Africa. More preciously, India is worried that China, under the framework of the BRI, might chip away at its regional leadership. It's really ridiculous that on the one hand, India hopes to deepen economic cooperation with China to promote its "Made in India" campaign, while on the other, it is concerned about China's growing influence in South Asia.
It is reported that in the past three years, more than 100 countries and international organizations are already participating in the initiative. China has signed cooperation agreements with more than 30 countries along the routes, and has launched international industrial capacity cooperation with more than 20 others. According to He Lifeng, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, China's investment in the initiative has surpassed $50 billion over the past three years. He said progress under the Initiative was "better than expected."
India needs to embrace China's BRI with an "open attitude" as most Asian countries are participating in the Initiative in a spirit of openness for economic benefits. India should realize this fact that the disputed Pakistan-occupied Kashmir region does not make any better or worse for India. More importantly, there is no valid justification in opposing to the BRI under the pretext of Pakistan's involvement in the CPEC project. A recent column in the Hindustan Times comments that "Hardline approaches to Pakistan and Kashmir may be good domestic politics for the Modi government, but they are not the geopolitics India needs for its future."
Joining BRI will not only increase India's trade substantially, it will also increase better access to funds through the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road Fund, better access to Middle East's energy resources and increase people-to-people exchanges with the other countries as the BRI aims to build land and sea links between China and Europe through roads, railway lines, power projects and ports in potentially over 60 countries.
It is unwise to think that China does not respect India's sovereignty concerns. Reacting to India's stand on the CPEC, in an Op-Ed piece in the Global Times on 23 February, 2017 said, "China has no intention of interfering in the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. China has long believed that the two neighbours should solve their dispute through dialogue and consultations and it has repeatedly emphasized that the construction of the CPEC would not affect its stance on the issue."
China's BRI has greatly benefited the world and significantly reshaped the global economic development. China has called upon India to join the BRI on various occasions and it is anticipated that India should respond positively. It's estimated that the CPEC could pave the way for about 1 million new jobs and could attract a strong influx of foreign direct investment (FDI) into the region. Partnering with China, India can reap economic benefits from the BRI in the long run.
No doubt, the BRI is an opportunity to modernise India's Stone Age infrastructure and pave the way for rapid industrialisation and employment growth. India should shed its concerns over the BRI and should explore the opportunities that the BRI affords. It can be boldly said that India's official position on CPEC is untenable and will end up isolating India from the China-led connectivity transformation across the globe. India can do little to stop BRI or scuttle the CPEC. The Global Times rightly asked New Delhi to abandon its "cliche mentality" to oppose China's grandiose project as a geopolitical competition.
It is important to remember that China has become a high-income economy with strong harmonious relations and driven by creativity and power of ideas. It should not be lost on us that China is far richer than we are. Let's admit it, China is not our enemy. Instead of opposing CPEC, it is hoped that India must involve itself in China's BRI with a more pragmatic attitude and look at different opportunities through CPEC, a project that will link 64 countries. The sound and stable development of China-India relations in recent years has proved that the 'dragon' and the 'elephant' should join hands to speed up cooperation and usher in a better future for all, from Asia to World.
Rabi Sankar Bosu, Secretary of New Horizon Radio Listeners' Club, West Bengal, India