The Belt And Road Initiative, India, And The Emerging Sino-Indian Rivalry

The Belt and Road Forum was launched on May 14th in Beijing amidst much fanfare by the Chinese government. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which formally translates to One Belt, One Road, is a planned infrastructure corridor that would link China to Europe through massive investments in communication and transportation infrastructure in countries in between. China has promoted the Belt and Road Initiative as a “win-win” proposition, where Chinese investment would support local economic growth through infrastructure building and connecting these countries to the global market.

Not everyone is happy with the Belt and Road Initiative, however. Most notably, China’s rising neighbour India is greatly concerned regarding the expansion of Chinese influence, which it perceives as a rising security threat. As reported by the Hindustan Times, India’s External Affairs Ministry Spokesman Gopal Baglay stated that “no country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The Times of India carried the even more alarming headline of “Beijing Plans to Turn Pakistan into Its Economic Colony.” These statements refer to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which, while not part of the BRI, is similar in nature. The Economic Corridor passes through a disputed part of Kashmir that is currently occupied by Pakistan. Although Beijing has stated that its official position on Kashmir remains for Pakistan and India to resolve their differences through peaceful negotiations, Chinese statements are unlikely to assuage Indian fears anytime soon.

To counter Chinese influence in the region, India has begun to sponsor its own international initiatives in partnership with Japan. These initiatives include the “Freedom Corridor” envisioned by India that would stretch from Africa to East Asia. India would also partner with Japan’s Partnership for Quality Infrastructure project as well as the African Development Bank. In a not-too-subtle criticism of the Chinese Initiative, Baglay is quoted to have said that investments should “avoid unsustainable projects that would create an unsustainable debt burden for communities” with regards to the BRI.

The emerging Sino-Indian rivalry in other developing countries carries risks but also great opportunities for these countries. In terms of risks, the rivalry can certainly cause tensions between the two regional powers to increase and carries with it the potential for military confrontation between the two. Furthermore, while a Cold War-style geostrategic rivalry with military coups and formulating rebellions to disrupt each other’s influences in third countries may be less likely in the current environment, such possibilities should not be ruled out. Furthermore, such rivalries can give a new lease on life for tottering and corrupt regimes that have long run their countries ineffectively but can still survive purely due to superpower backing.

The rivalry may also be an opportunity for the developing states. Just as the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War and what ASEAN is doing now, these states now have more room to “shop around” for the best deal on investment and export destination. Ideally, these developing countries will be able to leverage the geostrategic rivalry to greatly improve the living standards of their people and industrialize in a more environmentally friendly manner, as China has pledged it would assist states that have signed onto the BRI with green technology development. If such optimistic scenario is realized, the Sino-Indian rivalry can produce something much more constructive and beneficial than previous rivalries, and would hopefully make major contributions to world peace and improve the lives of millions of people across the world.

Hanyu Huang