Can India remain a bystander to connectivity through BRI?


Lessons need to be learnt

It is time that India and other regional powers join BRI rather than sabotage it. The people of the subcontinent deserve a better life and they need to benefit from the global and regional development

In this age of connectivity and communication, economic integration is the key to success. With the fast changing regional and global scenario, new alliances and coalitions are emerging.

In today’s world, Asia is the center of gravity with China and Russia attracting regional and global partners in their pursuit for economic integration. But the tool for achieving this goal has been China’s visionary plan of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The initiative maps out five areas of cooperation with Belt and Road countries and regions: policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people. One Belt One Road is not an entity or a treaty. Rather, it is a development initiative inspired by the ancient land and maritime Silk Road starting from various Chinese cities.

At least six economic corridors have been launched by China under the BRI — also known as One Belt and One Road initiative. The six corridors related to the BRI include China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor (CMREC); New Eurasian Land Bridge (NELB); China Central and West Asian Corridor (CCWAC); China-Indo-China Peninsula Economic Corridor (CICPEC); China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIMEC).

According to media reports, China plans to invest a hefty amount of USD900 billion into the construction of the ambitious BRI to help connect China with around 64 countries from East Asia with Central Asia, Russia, Europe and Africa through land and sea routes.

BRI involves various land and sea routes to help attain greater connectivity for economic integration. The initiative is a brainchild of Chinese President Mr Xi Jinping with an impressive plan to pull around 3.4 billion people of the world out of clutches of poverty and integrate them through expanding trade and economic fruits.

While Russia and Pakistan have already joined hands with China to materialise the dream of regional connectivity through BRI, India looks negatively towards the initiative. Not only has New Delhi been reluctant to join the idea of regional connectivity and trade, India is also reportedly using its clout over some of its neighbours to block the move.

BCIMEC is not the only initiative launched by China for boosting regional trade. Beijing has also launched CPEC to connect with South Asia. India may not only join BCIMEC but CPE’s nodes could also be turned into India which could benefit from Pakistan’s surplus energy which would cross 45,000 megawatts by the year 2030.

A Pakistani army officer, Lt Gen Amir Riaz, recently made a public offer to India to join CPEC while Beijing supported the idea the very next day. However, suspicions mar this possible future relationship too.

Pakistan blames India for using subversive attacks to sabotage CPEC overtly and covertly. It seems a considered policy of India to block Chinese initiatives of connectivity as the opposition to BCIMEC was not a tool used by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Rather, India has been reluctant to join the initiative since 1999 when BCIM was actually launched by China.

Indian opposition is costing dearly for Modi as a new gulf is fast developing between New Delhi and its old ally Russia. On the other hand, India is fast moving closer to Washington for its security interests as Premier Modi wants to act as a hegemon in the region. The US also is provoking its new and old allies in Asia in order to contain China — an effort which has failed so far. 

In an apparent bid to understand and address the concerns of the countries of the region related to the BRI, China recently launched quiet efforts to help elaborate the aims and objectives of the BRI for regional and global connectivity through trade, cultural and social exchanges to scholars and media of these countries.

In this regard, the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (IDCPC) hosted a track-II dialogue involving senior scholars and media persons from Pakistan, India, China, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

These scholars and media persons were hosted by the IDCPC during a 14-day trip to various cities of China from where the land and sea routes of the BRI would start. The visiting scholars from India included Nimi Kurian, BR Deepak, Mahendra P. Lama and Rajen Singh while Najam Rafique, myself and Shahbaz Bhatti represented Pakistan. Ms Anisatul Fatema Yousuf from Bangladesh whereas Mr Tun Tun, Lin Htet and Win Tun were the scholars who attended the dialogue from Myanmar.

At Beijing, the scholars and media persons were given detailed briefings by senior Chinese officials of the IDCPC and National Development and Reforms Commission (NDRC) about the objectives of the BRI.

The scholars were also invited to a lavish luncheon hosted by IDCPC Assistant Minister Mr Dou Enyong. Deputy Director General IDCPC Ms Sun Haiyan also held a special session with delegation. 

Throughout the trip, the delegates were properly looked after by Chief of Information Office Ms Li Jinyan and her team members including Ms Fu Chun and Mr Zhao Shengwen who accompanied the delegation to Yunnan and Fujian provinces too. The entire team made no stone unturned to make the delegates feel at home.

At a briefing by NDRC on various aspects of the BCIMEC and CPEC progress was held at the IDCPC headquarters chaired by Ms Zou Yonghong. Director NDRC Ms Wang Yun, who is a member of BCIM joint working group, was of the view that the BCIM and CPEC have entered into an advanced stage. Ms Wang said the NDRC arranges exchanges with India, Bangladesh and Myanmar for better understanding the concerns and issues related to the BCIMEC.

She was of the view that the BCIMEC and CPEC were being run on track-I and track-II forums side by side. In 2013, leaders of China and India had jointly agreed to shift consultation fro track-II to government-to-government level. She said BCIM is being handled from down-to-top approach and there is a high degree of consensus between the member-states. A lot of work has been done to push forward the government to government cooperation.

It is a regrettable fact that though two meetings on BCIM have been convened but India had not been able to host the third meeting in year 2014 where all the four countries had agreed to submit their respective reports.

This is the third consecutive year with Indian reluctance to host the third meeting of BCIM. But China is still optimistic about the prospects of the BCIM moving beyond hindrances. Under the BCIM, China has promised to provide investment and connectivity to the member states.

The delegates were informed that China has already finished its assessment on investment planning and sources of funding but India has been reluctant in doing so. Beijing sent emails to all concerned officials and asked embassies to hold a meeting between experts and scholars before the formal meeting during year 2016 but the meeting has not been convened for some “obvious reasons”.

The NDRC was happy to note that the Indian experts did not hesitate to identify problems and concerns observed by New Delhi and even raised some useful proposals. It was agreed that disagreements may be enlisted and proposals may also be inked down for a breakthrough in the BCIM. It was also agreed that for the world, the BCIM progress may be not so important but for the four countries each step taken must be solid.

BR Deepak, a professor at JNU, India, believes that India, being the largest nation in the subcontinent, will certainly be the largest beneficiary of the BRI, but it tend to lose by being an onlooker to regional connectivity.

“The BRI is essentially aimed to re-globalise the world economy in the face of increasingly protectionist West — led by the US. If we see the composition of the BRI countries, they are essentially developing countries with a huge potential”.

Deepak sees an opportunity for India to align its Sagarmalaa initiative with that of China so that win-win economic benefits are reaped. He says this will not only alleviate poverty but also mitigate political mistrust and pave way for the resolution of thorny issues.

“India must learn from the Chinese experience of globalisation by way of which it uplifted 700 million people from poverty in a short span of 30 years. This could happen in the South Asian context too, provided we align our national developmental strategies with other countries in the regions”.

Nimi Kurian, another delegate from India, says that BCIM, AIIB and BRI, all three have Indian representation and whenever talks enter from track-II to track-I mode, the progress is always slow.

She however looks hopeful, stating that there was a major progress in Indian, Bangladesh and Myanmar positions. She called for identification of project-based approach rather than an umbrella project to avoid controversies.

Admitting the fact that Indian government was a bit reluctant to join the BCIM, she says China could involve the bordering regions of India into the BCIM while the central government may join later. She said the train link in Northeast India could be useful in trade expansion.

Mahendra Lama, another professor at JNU, picked up threads from where those were left by Nimi, saying that Northern India could be linked to the BCIM under India’s Act East Policy. He said out of eight South Asian states, six have already joined the BRI which reflects a success story already. He noted that unfortunately India puts BRI in a competitive and rivalry mode purely on a national security laid framework.

“We rather must have to change this hegemonic framework for economic coordination and cooperative integration mode. There is a need to adopt a balancing act as asking to take sides against or for India or China must change. The debate needs to be changed,” he observed.

He said that the Indo-China borders need to be softened and connected to help seek economic opportunities. “Security fossils must be changed and borders need to be turned soft. The borders should be seen as connecting the dots. These points need to be used for economic exchanges and beyond politics. Investment, trade, tourism, etc, must be given priority,” he added.

Rajen Singh also supported the idea of using train link for BCIM and said trans-regional train links could help promote trade. He said road link was also available linking Northeast India with Myanmar but there is a need to reconstruct four bridges inside Myanmar.    

Dr Linn Htet, a young scholar from Myanmar, views BRI as a great opportunity for Myanmar but says there are several challenges especially across the border. He said although Myanmar and China enjoy a good relationship, there is a dire need to offer more job opportunities for local people.

He further says that security challenge also needs to be addressed due to prolonged civil war near Myanmar-China border.

Najam Rafique, acting director-general at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, says the CPEC was a success story for the world by all means. He said that the first successful sendoff of dispatch of shipping goods from Gwadar port in November 2016 has given many powers sleepless nights.

“Hegemonic designs to sabotage CPEC emerged soon after the sendoff of the first shipment of goods from Gwadar Port, as an India submarine emerged inside Pakistani territorial waters, and later when a US submarine drone was intercepted by the Chinese navy in the South China Sea. We need to stop living in a security-oriented environment if the dream of regional connectivity is to be achieved for the greater good of the greater number along the various economic and sea corridors. A whole new academic debate was needs to change the discourse, particularly in South Asia,” he observed.

He called for close coordination between think tanks along the CPEC and BCIM corridors by establishing a close cooperative mechanism. He said there needs to be a greater interaction between Chinese and Pakistan think-tanks. He suggested now is the time for not only a trilateral dialogue process between Pakistan, China and India, but a quadrilateral dialogue involving Iran as well. We must find regional solutions for regional problems, he added.

He said the Chinese visa regime needs to be reviewed for Pakistani students and entrepreneurs and the people to people and cultural linkages need to be cemented. Moreover, he called for media communication to be enhanced between Pakistan and China too.

It is time that India and other regional powers join BRI rather than sabotage it. The people of the subcontinent deserve a better life and they need to benefit from the global and regional development.

History is replete with stories of destruction and mayhem caused due to wars and conflicts. The Middle East is the centre of conflicts and wars while China, with its mature approach, has taught the world how to stay put on the path of development and advancement, resolving all conflicts and disputes. India needs to learn from history that wherever US forces have landed, they have brought conflict and turmoil. Lessons need to be learnt as the people of subcontinent deserve a better life now.


  1. Matter of fact, Pakistan and all of central Asia is a bystander in BRI, we don’t need to ply a route to China for their substandard commodities.
    We are fast becoming the next manufacturing hub after China

    • india is the net loser in the coming years. Manufacturing of india is primitive compared to China, The only way forward for india is to become a client state of Pakistan.

  2. Pakistan can become a bridge between India and Afganisthan with CPEC or no CEPEC. But Pakistam army does not allow this so it is just waste of time to discuss on this. India is going ahead with Chabahaar to trade with central asian countries and can extend to Russia and Europe. India does not need CPEC for this.

  3. I agree, US are not trustworthy. But the History also proves the Kind of people Chinese are. They have never allowed any other people to Develop in there Territory. There hunger for land & masses can be seen currently in Korea, tibet & taiwan.

    US never ditches any Friend untill, it is harmed. (For Eg. it had never ditched France & allies.)
    But China has never spare any of it allies from Back History. It always merge the Area & make it underdeveloped. Only country that ban Lama.

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