Time to Change Track: India Needs to Reorient its Policy to "Act North"

http://www.bjreview.com/Opinion/201706/t20170606_800097603.html | 作者: Lan Jianxue | 时间: 2017-06-06 | 责编: Wang Jiapei
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India, an important emerging economy, was the only absentee among the world's major economies at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held on May 14-15 in Beijing. Though the South Asian giant had every reason to boycott the forum, it has beyond any doubt lost a good opportunity to present itself as a large, outward-looking nation as well as a chance to jointly discuss how to promote regional interconnectivity.

 

Introspection from India's academics

Since it was put forward four years ago, the Belt and Road Initiative has won support or interest from more than 100 countries and international organizations. Some development projects of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative have also been included in important resolutions of the UN Assembly and UN Security Council.

Arguing that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through the part of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan, India's Narendra Modi administration boycotted the forum in Beijing which was attended by high-level representatives from more than 130 countries and 70 international organizations.

However, this move by the Indian Government has aroused sharp criticism from India's academic circles and its domestic media.

Some Indian think tanks blamed the "unwise move" on Modi's top advisory body, claiming that India's absence will result only in the isolation of India itself, and even though India has a set of "reasonable" concerns, it should participate in the meeting and raise those concerns and proposals.

Some others criticized that India had misjudged the international situation and hadn't forecasted that the forum would attract leaders and officials from such a large number of countries, particularly the participation of the United States, the Philippines, Viet Nam, Japan, South Korea and North Korea. These countries, like India, all have some divergence with China, but they sent delegations to the forum with flexible and pragmatic attitudes and expressed their propositions on various occasions.

In addition, they argued that India's absence shows that its China policy remains to be short-sighted and outdated. Indian senior diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar wrote that the U.S.-China détente that is unfolding under Trump's stewardship makes complete nonsense of the Modi administration's China policies, which were tied to the apron strings of the Obama administration's pivot strategy in Asia. The Modi administration's China policies are turning out to be very short-sighted and based on vanities and prejudices carried forward from another era that are hopelessly unsustainable today. If India places itself outside the Belt and Road Initiative which is widely supported by the international community, it will be a huge loss for India, as its domestic growth and diplomatic interests all make this China-proposed initiative an irreplaceable partner for India.

 

Obsolete mentality

India has insisted that as a part of the Belt and Road Initiative, the CPEC damages India's sovereignty over the disputed Kashmir region, and the Indian Government thus cannot back the initiative. However, since the initiative was first proposed in 2013, China has regarded India as an important cooperation partner on the initiative and attached great importance to coordination with India.

Via different communication channels, China has explained to the Indian side the significance of the initiative which aims at common development and prosperity of all parties and stressed that the CPEC is irrelevant to disputes over territory and sovereignty. In his keynote speech during the Belt and Road Forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping also stressed building the Belt and Road into a road for peace. All countries should respect each other's sovereignty, dignity, territorial integrity and each other's core interests and major concerns.

Even before the opening of the Belt and Road Forum, China did not give up the possibility of India's participation. When giving a speech to the United Service Institution of India on May 5, Chinese Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui also stressed that "China has no intention to get involved in the sovereignty and territorial disputes between India and Pakistan. China supports the solution of the disputes through bilateral negotiations between the two countries. The CPEC is for promoting economic cooperation and connectivity. It has no connections to or impact on sovereignty issues. China and India have had successful experience of delinking sovereignty disputes with bilateral relations before. In history, we have had close cooperation along the ancient Silk Road. Why shouldn't we support this kind of cooperation today?"

However, India's continuous entanglement with CPEC equates to using the pendent territorial dispute between India and Pakistan to hijack the regional development agenda proposed under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. Such a rigid and unconstructive approach can only isolate India from this regional development blueprint.

A universal view of international academic circles over the fundamental reason for India's staying away from the Belt and Road Initiative is its geopolitical considerations--India worries that the Belt and Road Initiative may help expand China's regional and global influence while undermining India's geopolitical interests. In an article recently published by The Indian Express, Raja Mohan, Director of Carnegie India, claimed that India's difficulty lies deeper. It is about the prospect that the Belt and Road Initiative will massively strengthen China's commercial, economic, political and security influence on India's neighborhood and marginalize Delhi's regional primacy.But this interpretation of China's intentions is too India-centric.

Interestingly, after being absent from the Belt and Road Forum, some Indian scholars, based on their geopolitical gaming ideas, began to advocate the forging of a so-called Freedom Corridor to join hands with Japan in an attempt to contend against the Belt and Road Initiative. From Project Mausam to Spice Route, from Cotton Route to Freedom Corridor, India has actually proposed numerous regional strategic concepts in recent years. However, as these ideas are all based on geopolitical gaming and a cold-war mentality, their prospects are doomed. And most of the possible participants have serious reservations over the concepts as they worry that they might become involved in power politics.

 

From geopolitics to geo-economics

Practice has proved that as long as any country can interpret the Belt and Road Initiative with a rational mentality, it will find the great business opportunity the initiative offers and the appropriate docking point of the initiative with its own development strategy, tapping fully the cooperation potential while reserving its own concerns. As for what senior Indian journalist Prem Shankar Jha said, China and India are facing the opportunity of a century for cooperation. The framework for the two nations to cooperate already exists in China's Belt and Road Initiative, which will mostly be financed by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, to which India was the second largest contributor of seed money.

Sometimes, liberation of thinking can result in huge productivity and change international relations and the history of human civilization. At present, geo-economic considerations have gradually become a booster for cooperation between nations, neighboring countries in particular. In geo-economics, the geographical location and natural resources of a country can exert important influence on its development and economic behavior.

In its national economic activities, one country often inclines to choose to cooperate with neighboring regions and form mutually-dependent geo-economic relations. In the context of a new international political and economic situation, China and India can certainly expand their cooperation by strengthening interconnectivity and pushing forward project-based cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. Funding, technology and experience in infrastructure construction from China can serve as strong boosters of the Modi administration's economic reform blueprint. China and India can also build joint ventures to exploit third markets in South Asia, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

Though the construction of the China, India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar Economic Corridor is progressing slowly, it still can provide a framework and institutional support for underdeveloped regions of the four countries to promote regional interconnectivity and expand trade and investment.

Some Indian scholars have proposed that India can also join the CPEC or build a cross-Himalaya cooperation framework together with China. These proposals all surpass geopolitical game mentality and help enlighten innovative thinking for geo-economic cooperation between the two countries.

When engaged in dialogue with President Xi in Brazil in July 2014, Prime Minister Modi hailed China and India as "two bodies, one spirit." And during Xi's Indian trip in September the same year, Modi coined a new phrase to describe the India-China relationship, calling it "InCh towards Miles," where "inch" stands for India-China, and "miles" refers to a millennium of exceptional synergy. Xi also pointed out that both China and India are nations with great influence on the world. Suppose China and India spoke with one voice, the whole world would listen. The leaders of the two countries, taking a broad and long-term view, have set a positive tone and forward-looking strategic judgment for bilateral ties.

In the future, the two nations should at all levels surmount the bigoted geopolitical game mentality and jointly create a new era in the China-India relationship.

 

 

The author is an associate researcher with China Institute of International Studies.

 

 

Source: Beijing Review, No. 24, June 6, 2017.

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