China aims to engage in “constructive dialogue” with India to bring the latter on board its ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR) project that aims to create a common economic zone by connecting China with Europe. OBOR is a plan to revive the old “silk route” and it appears to be a far flung dream with India reluctant to join citing security concerns.
“We (China) keep regional peace and cooperation as top priority. While there may be security concerns from some elements, the way to move forward is increased cooperation and trust. China and India should be the front-runners working for regional growth. Strong relations can be forged with collective economic growth and that is what OBOR is all about,” Chinese ambassador to India, Le Yucheng, told The Sunday Guardian over telephone. “China will not interfere in the India-Pakistan conflict. However, it is our shared responsibility to connect the once flourishing part of the world and create a common and open economic zone that will benefit all and promote international trade in this region. Open trade routes were the basis for development of all countries. We have already started infrastructure projects with some member countries like Russia and Pakistan for laying down important infrastructure links. We will try to engage in constructive dialogue again with India so that President Xi Jinping’s vision to make Asia a powerhouse of economic growth again is realised soon,” he said.
While China seeks India’s support for OBOR, a project that appeared on the international stage in 2013, opinions are divided on the Indian side regarding security threats, primarily from Pakistan, and China’s reluctance to support India’s bid to stop terrorism from Pakistan. From the outset, it seemed to outline a possible common economic zone among over 65 member countries that aimed to focus on profits from engaging more with the Chinese economy.
This highly diverse, free and abstract economic market that is centred on China ultimately bleeds into matters of international security. In what complicates matters more, China-Pakistan cooperation under the OBOR framework is worrisome. “China has already announced investments of over $46 billion in constructing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). At present, this is the only project under the OBOR plan that is underway; no other seems likely soon. India’s worries are not limited to only the rapidly increasing China-Pakistan cooperation. It is a concern for us that CPEC runs through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK),” said Vikram Jaiswal, senior associated fellow with the Lowry Foundation, and international policy research expert.
It is imperative that for this vision to materialise, a consensus must be reached as to how this transnational trade corridor can be taken forward and addressing India’s security concerns and the benefits that may be reaped by cultivating such an engagement. “PoK is still a disputed territory and as far as we are concerned, rightfully a part of India. Once the CPEC route is fully operational, it will connect Gwadar to Kashgar by over 3,000-km long network of oil and gas pipelines, railway lines, and highways. This will naturally increase Chinese presence near India’s borders. It is also a big concern that Chinese cooperation in PoK will result in China emerging as a potential long-term stakeholder in the prolonged India-Pakistan territorial dispute. Also due to the slowing Chinese economy, we are well ahead of the days when China could invest offensive amounts of money in other countries for increased political clout,” Jaiswal added.
While quashing India’s concerns about threat from Pakistan, Lahore-based Bilal Ahmed Khan, former diplomat and philanthropist, told this newspaper, “What the other stakeholders (India and China) have forgotten to speak about is their continued standoff over their shared international boundaries. The symmetric relationship between them along with Tibetan presence in India can be a significant reason. Abandoning the matter will never bring about sustained peace and growth. Till all disputes are not resolved, apprehensions and mutual distrust will continue to remain at the centre stage of international dialogue.” While India looks toward China to attract large investments, which may prove to be pivotal in giving a boost to the Make in India campaign, India has emerged as a crucial market for Chinese foreign direct investment. During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India, China pledged an investment of US$20 billion in India, with the end result that China became India’s second-largest trading partner after the United Arab Emirates.
However, in June, China blocked India’s bid to question Pakistan at the United Nations Sanctions Committee relating to the release of international terrorist Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a prime conspirator in the 2008 Mumbai attacks that claimed the lives of over 160 people and injured many more. China’s veto highlighted the point that Beijing is ready to endorse the Pakistani government’s approach to cross-border terrorism.