Opinion: Should India take French President's visit to China as endorsement of BRI?

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at Daminggong Palace during a visit to the northern Chinese city of Xian. Photograph:( AFP )

New Delhi, Delhi, India Jan 15, 2018, 08.02 AM (IST) Major General S B Asthana

Chinese efforts to make best of the French President Macron’s visit to claim the success of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), recently enshrined in the Constitution, have not been bought by the West. Macron has been balanced in choosing his words to say “I want us to define together the rules of a balanced relationship in which everyone will win.” Referring specifically to China’s BRI to revive Silk Road trade routes, he said “the ancient Silk Roads were never only Chinese” and also “the new roads cannot only go one way”. 

 

Macron's words, therefore, underlines the fact that the BRI cannot be only China-centric with the bulk of contracts going to Chinese companies to revive their sliding economy. 

 

Many countries in the European Union see the $1 trillion BRI as an example of Chinese expansionism and the proposed deals lacking transparency and level playing field, highly skewed in favor of China.

 

From the conception of the One Belt One Road (OBOR), later published in BRI document, it was quite clear that the BRI project has been conceived by China, to improve its connectivity with four continents to increase its infrastructure investments, utilise it's capacities and trade surpluses, besides increasing its strategic footprints globally. It is a 'China First' programme without calling it so. China planned to organised OBOR Summit last year, expecting attendance of all global leaders, but when it was clear that the world will not sign on the dotted line of China, and most top leaders will not attend, it was renamed as Belt and Road Forum (BRF).

 

BRI is also a tool for creating connectivity for Chinese global deployability to be able to take on a global leadership role. China wants the world to believe that it is a benign project for inclusive growth of partners, but the idea has been bought by only those countries which need Chinese capital or other support. Some others who cannot oppose China for various reasons have also followed it because of lack of choices. 

 

The countries which joined the Chinese bandwagon were helpless, in dire need of capital to develop infrastructure in their country.  Most of them now realise that it was exploitative. The problem still remains that who will provide the capital for such a fancy one-sided project conceived for China's economic survival and to fulfill its global leadership ambition? The European countries realise that with major contracts planned for Chinese companies, it is not a win-win project but only a China- win project.

 

India boycotted BRF because China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC), (part of BRI) passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), which as sovereign territory of India violates Indian sovereignty. No other country is confronted with an issue as serious as “sovereignty issue” in context of BRI as India, hence, India stance is well-justified. 

 

Moreover, it is wishful thinking that militants harboured in Pakistan will ever allow our trade to pass through to CAR/Afghanistan. In case of Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM), India has already established connectivity through Bangladesh from Kolkata to Agartala. The roads in the northeastern states are being developed by India, and connectivity to Myanmar is being developed bilaterally, hence, China-driven BCIM has very little to charm India.

 

I feel that Chinese advertisement of Macron's support to BRI is part of popularising it. On Macron's part, it is part of diplomatic niceties, the depth of which will be known only when contracts pertaining to BRI are inked.

 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL).