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China-sponsored globalisation rising - Deccan Herald
China-sponsored globalisation rising
Anil K Kanungo,
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At a time when gains from globalisation are in doubt and globalisation per se from the West appears to be in retreat, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) seems to be emerging as a potent symbol of the rise of China-driven globalisation.

The BRI, part of the current 'China dream', spearheaded by President Xi Jinping to revitalise the Chinese nation, is a two-fold project. It is the belt to link the great Eurasian continent with overland railways, highways, pipelines and other infrastructure, and a road to link China with Southeast Asia and even Africa through ports and other maritime linkages. Collectively, it was known as 'One Belt, One Road (OBOR)' but is now usually referred to as the BRI.

The BRI comes at a time when regional and global divisions are intensifying. Diverse nationalisms with the potential for serious conflict are becoming more apparent. Economic globalisation and free-trade once seemed so eminently desirable that few dared to go against them. Yet, there is now less consensus about their benefits.

The primary aim of BRI is economic. The major objective is to minimise disparities in China by spurring growth in its under-developed hinterland and rustbelt. At the World Economic Forum of 2017, Xi - the first Chinese President to attend - championed globalisation and opposed protectionism.

In 2014, the Chinese government set up the New Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to promote infrastructure that would support the trade and other economic linkages involved in BRI.

Around the same time, the initiative to create the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor was considered a major development in South Asia to provide China substantial access to the region. Through such penetration, China is trying to establish its economic suzerainty over the countries of Central Asia and elsewhere.

In May 2017, Xi took the initiative to sponsor the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. More than 30 heads of organisations and heads of states, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, as well as the then Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif took part actively. Such a meeting was aimed at capturing international support and recognition and legitimising BRI as an important government priority for all participating countries.

One country that is definitely not enthusiastic and forthcoming about BRI is India, which is wary of China's increasing ties with Pakistan and Russia. There were no Indian representatives at the forum in May.

The advance of Indian troops in June to stop China from building a road on the border with Bhutan resulted in a serious face-off, although negotiations resulted in a solution late in August.

Doklam is very fresh in their minds. Along with several other countries, India is nervous about the strategic implications of China's access to Pakistan's deep-water port of Gwadar, which would open China and its land-locked territory of Xinjiang to the Persian Gulf.

In some respects, India and China are trying to cooperate, but the India-Pakistan equation casts a shadow. The BRICS forum could be a great cementing factor and links the two Asian giants in a grouping united to promote the interests of emerging market economies vis-à-vis the West, but long-term rivalry and hostility between China and India continues to make sustained cooperation difficult.

Mixed picture

While governments are mostly keen on the BRI, viewing it as a source of economic expansion and greater prosperity, many ordinary people are less convinced. China's image in Central Asia is a mixed picture, and there are people who view China's economic expansion as inevitable but pernicious. They resent the fact that Chinese companies bring their own workers with them, so opportunity for local people to gain employment is remote.

Opinion in the West is also divided. While many observers and business leaders see opportunities in the BRI for profits and growth, others doubt project viability and feasibility. Sceptics doubt whether the countries involved are technically and economically competent enough to make it work. Many suspect China's motives, and consider the BRI as a plot to regain China's traditional power over central Asian countries and extend it to Africa.

It is too early to state if the BRI will succeed in the short run. But looking at Chinese tenacity and perseverance, Beijing is unlikely to give up on it.

In the event of retreat of the West-led globalisation, China will push its own version of globalisation through BRI. In all likelihood, the impact of BRI over the next several decades could be huge and be a major driver of China's world economic and strategic influence.

(The writer is Professor, Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management, New Delhi)