Responding to a query on the participation of India in the OBOR/BRI Forum, Gopal Bagley, spokesperson, Ministry of External Affairs, said, “We had received formal invitation to participate in the six separate forums that China is organising as part of the Belt and Road Forum being held in Beijing on 14-16 May.” Citing India’s stand on China’s BRI forum, Baglay said that while India supports all kind of connectivity initiatives, such initiatives should be “based on universally recognised international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality.”
Baglay added, “Guided by our principled position in the matter, we have been urging China to engage in a meaningful dialogue on its connectivity initiative, ‘One Belt, One Road’ which was later renamed as ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. We are awaiting a positive response from the Chinese side.” On the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Baglay said, “The international community is well aware of India’s position. No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Though a majority of SAARC countries will be sending high delegations to the Forum, Japan, India and the United States will be the most obvious absentees.
In a bid to woo India, China’s envoy to India had suggested renaming the corridor’s name to India-China-Pakistan Corridor, but his statements were withdrawn later after Pakistan objected to the suggestion.
A.B. Mahapatra, director of Centre for Asian Strategic Studies, said, “India is not losing out on any opportunity by not being part of OBOR. The Belt and Road initiative is not global. It is China-driven and is meant to benefit China. The smaller countries that have become a part of the initiative will soon realise that the interest rates of China’s loans will make them mortgage their assets to China. Sri Lanka realised this at an early stage and scaled back on the Hambantota port deal. Cambodia is next in line, with their huge debt. They, too, will have to take strategic decisions to meet the payback on their debts to China. Pakistan will realise the same in next 3-4 years.”
Mahapatra added, “Most of the investments under the initiative in our neighbouring countries were proposed by earlier premiers of China. Xi Jin Ping is re-branding them under the name of OBOR and using it to enhance his glory as a globalisation ace.”
Nonetheless, India’s neighbouring countries have confirmed their weekend trip to China. Pakistan and Sri Lanka will be sending high level delegations to the conference with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s confirmed attendance.
Nepal, too, has confirmed sending a high-level delegation which will consist of the deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, along with two more ministers and other senior officials. Ahead of the conference, foreign secretary Shankar Das Bairagi and the Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Yu Hong, will sign the framework agreement on OBOR. The Nepalese delegation will sign a separate memorandum of understanding on OBOR. Beijing had sent a draft proposal on OBOR to Nepal late last year. After a month-long consultation, Nepal had sent back a revised version of the draft to China.
As far as Afghanistan is concerned, news reports confirmed that a high-level Afghan delegation is due to attend the forum. Afghanistan is an official partner of the initiative that expects to cash on a rare chance to develop its dry ports along the trade and transit routes and utilise its abundant natural resources.
A multibillion dollar contract for the development of the Mes Aynak copper mine in central Logar province was signed between China and Afghanistan earlier this week. The mine is expected to produce about 11 million tonnes of copper in 25 years. This project will be funded entirely by China under a Build-Own-Operate-Transfer (BOOT) model.
In March, confirming Afghanistan’s participation in OBOR, Afghan finance minister Eklil Hakimi, who will be attending the forum, had said: “We have already aligned most of our domestic plans according to OBOR initiative”.