Friday 26 May 2017 News Updated at 03:05 AM IST
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Distancing from BRI detrimental to India - Deccan Herald
Distancing from BRI detrimental to India
Bengaluru, DH News Service,
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China's showcasing of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) at a two-day conference in Beijing was impressive. Leaders of 29 countries and official government representatives from 30 others participated in the meet, signalling the wide interest the project has attracted. First announced in late 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the BRI involves using free trade agreements and infrastructure projects to create a new Silk Route that includes an economic land "belt" through Eurasia, and a maritime "road" connecting coastal Chinese cities to Africa and the Mediterranean. Its vision is grand: it promises economic prosperity and the rich civilisational exchange that the Old Silk Route ushered in centuries ago. But the BRI is not just about economics. Several countries believe that China plans to use the initiative to further its geopolitical and geostrategic goals.

India stayed away from the BRI conference. Its strong opposition to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is a flagship project of the BRI, is said to underlie its reluctance to join the BRI. The CPEC runs through Gilgit-Baltistan, a territory over which India lays claim and thus violates India's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Additionally, it appears that India does not want to become part of an initiative that would boost China's economic and strategic clout globally. It is averse to playing second fiddle to China's global rise.

Though India's concerns over the CPEC and the BRI are understandable, its decision to stay away from the meeting seems misguided. Several countries, including the United States, which are just as worried as India is about the BRI's strategic implications, sent officials to participate at the meeting, although they had earlier indicated otherwise. India, too, could have sent a delegation. By staying away, it isolated itself. The chances of India being able to shape the BRI's evolution are brighter if it were to join the initiative or at least participate in these meetings, instead of ending up a helpless onlooker. India is already involved in the BRI. It is the second largest contributor to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which has allocated $100 billion for the BRI. India and China are working together on the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor project. If they can cooperate on a standalone connectivity project, why not on projects connected to the BRI that are not linked to the CPEC? Participating in the BRI would open up markets for India. Reports in the run-up to the Beijing meet indicated Chinese willingness, albeit shortlived, to rename the CPEC. This signals space for India to manoeuvre things to its advantage. New Delhi must rethink its decision to lock itself out of the BRI.