In its quest for strategic security and greater economic leverage, nation states are in a constant strife to coin new terminologies that legitimize their area of operation. 21st century world politics is highly impacted upon by globalization with greater emphasis on liberalizing markets, connectivity, joint development, and cooperation, all through the prism of soft power. International Relations is a complex game wherein nothing remains constant, not even power equations. With the dawn of the 21st century, the fulcrum of power appeared to tilt towards Asia, and China constantly has been trying to re-draw the rules of the game and play its own power politics to shape International Relations to its own advantage. However, behind the veil of the ideal model of mutual development through cooperation, lies the realpolitik of securing one’s own national interest and the notion of relative gains. It would be interesting to see how China re-positioning itself would affect India’s growth story and the way they would deal with each other in the event of a clash between their world views and interests.

 

One Belt One Road: Scripting Chinese Growth Story

One Belt One Road (OBOR), also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has been launched with a view to ensure the continuation of Chinese economic prosperity in the long run. Touted as the centrepiece of President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy, OBOR is a grand plan that comprises “Silk Road Economic Belt” (SREB) and the 21st century “Maritime Silk Road” (MSR) that will link Asia, Africa, Europe and the South Pacific. It involves massive investments in infrastructural projects, financial integration, liberalization of trade and investment, enhanced connectivity, and people-to-people connectivity among the nations of Asia, Africa and Europe.

 

As such, it reflects the ethos of the cob-web model of globalization in which openness, connectivity and linkage are the buzzwords. However, behind the veil of the ideal win-win model, lie the harsh realities of Chinese ambitions to secure its footing in the new century. The two important legs of OBOR are the SREB and MSR. The SREB aims at greater connectivity by linking the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to Europe through Central Asia; as well as linking the coastal regions of China with that of Africa through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea. The massive project is sought to be funded by China Investment Corporation and China Development Bank among others. Again, China is heavily dependent on the Strait of Malacca, which is one of the main transport corridors for much of its oil supply from the Middle East and Africa. The MSR stretches China’s reach to the Strait of Malacca, which links the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and forms the linchpin of China’s energy security. Beijing’s venture talks of massive economic investments under this grand plan, including the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), industrial hubs, Information Technology (IT), energy and commerce. OBOR acts as an all-inclusive project, allowing China to increase both its economic and political influence as well as to securitize its strategic goals.

 

As such Chinese soft power camouflaging as OBOR seems to be a combination of a number of mechanisms such as engaging in massive investments, trying to integrate their economies and expand its outreach into the ocean by controlling strategic sea lanes and choke-points. It is a long-term game plan, giving China access to new markets and allowing it to control the investment mechanisms of smaller countries. As of now, there are concerns raised from the Chinese side regarding the sustainability of OBOR. The Chinese banks funding the development projects in some of the poorest countries have raised anxiety over the credibility of such projects due to internal turmoil and political problems, which often form an impediment to economic integration. This is already evident in Venezuela, Thailand and Indonesia. Also, PRC’s projected investment in some countries, for example, Laos is more than the GDP of those countries. In such cases there can be an apprehension over mishandling of funds. However, if negotiated prudently and implemented successfully, it will make China the undisputed leader of a massive economic empire.

 

As such, a successful strategy can therefore be identified as a perfect combination of economic, political and diplomatic means. China is in a struggle to further its rise and expand its influence by tapping the resource-rich areas of the world. OBOR exemplifies Chinese ambitions to climb the ladder of power – swaying across Asia, Africa and Europe. With emphasis on building robust economic ties and securing greater connectivity and stronger strategic relations, it is a masterplan for China to ensure its dominance for centuries to come.

 

India’s Concern over OBOR

Frictions in International Relations are caused due to the clash or conflict of interest. While the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China harbour the common desire to become influential in world affairs, OBOR is a clear demonstration of how Chinese economic diplomacy is at play, where India tends to lose out. China has always been claiming itself of being a benign power. However, if analyzed carefully, OBOR seems to fulfil Chinese ambitions at the cost of India’s geopolitical concerns.

 

The Chinese OBOR seems to be compromising some of India’s critical security imperatives. India’s concern over OBOR is mainly due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a massive $ 46 billion-dollar investment that is deemed as a ‘game changer’ for the Pakistani economy. A massive 3000-kilometre venture linking Islamabad’s Gwadar to China’s Xinjiang, CPEC as the flagship of China’s OBOR diplomacy, compromises India’s sovereignty since it passes through the disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan region in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

 

This also suggests a strong PRC-Pakistan alliance, which is a concern for Indian strategists, given the bitter historical experiences. India-Pakistan relations, from the very beginning, have never been smooth, with both the nations dealing with mutual suspicion, the Kashmir issue and cross-border terrorism. Pakistan undoubtedly is one of the major security concerns for India. At the same time, China and India are somewhat like ‘strange friends’, both sharing some common bonds and historical experiences; however, both cannot trust each other completely. India is wary of Chinese design in Northeast India especially in Arunachal Pradesh, with both countries having competing territorial sovereignty claims. While both the countries are extensively linked through trade, they are sceptical of each other’s strategic ambitions. With China and Pakistan joining hands in accomplishing the grand design named OBOR, India surely has to look to other alternatives to ensure that its political goals and economic ambitions in the region stand fulfilled.

 

Moreover, through OBOR, China seeks greater connectivity, trade and investment; and ultimately as a ‘revisionist power’, influence the policies of India’s neighbouring countries and perhaps undermine India’s bilateral economic and security relations with them.

 

Is India Losing Out?

Through the OBOR project, China is venturing towards creating the world’s largest economic platform with the PRC at the centre. It also ensures Chinese dominance in the Indian Ocean region, which is again a concern for India. Often regarded as a ‘revisionist power’, India is wary of the fact that through greater connectivity, trade and investment, Beijing would influence the policies of the neighbouring countries and that might lead to undermining of India’s bilateral relations with them. However, an outright rejection of OBOR would be a wrong step for India since New Delhi cannot stop other countries from joining the BRI. India has to keep in mind that some of its regional partners like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar are already swayed by China’s OBOR project and have shown positive interest in it. With more South Asian countries joining the Chinese camp, this inevitably sends a worrisome signal to India’s ambitions in South Asia.

 

The US sided with India’s strategic concerns over CPEC, expressing concern over the whole idea of having ‘one belt’, which contradicts the idea of ‘many belts and many roads’ in a globalized world order. However, India cannot totally rely on US commitments after the revoking of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Another alternative would be to join hands with other stakeholders in the region such as Japan, as it is also wary of China’s rising assertiveness, especially in the case of the South China Sea region, since a powerful China would be at the cost of Japanese ambitions. Whatever it is, the use of hard power is not the solution. India should carefully walk the rope and positively influence the countries, which are part of the BRI and are also strategically and economically significant to India. Revitalizing its own soft power diplomacy by engaging with China to cooperate on mutually beneficial areas would be one option since the Chinese and Indian economies are extensively linked.

 

With great power lies great responsibility, but the question remains as to what responsibility is being talked about? Is it the responsibility of securing the shared interests of the global commons or is it the responsibility to furthering one’s own national interest? While talks of cooperation and liberalization seem to be ideal, real politics is far from ‘idealism’, wherein survival and growth stand as the two main pillars of international politics. It is like a Stag Hunt where nations extend their hands of cooperation to ensure that their interests get served. In this case, China is looking for friends, allies and partners to sustain its growth and maintain its influence across the globe. Though concerns over OBOR loom large, both internally and internationally, the PRC seems confident with regard to its masterpiece. To this end, OBOR is China’s ‘grand strategy’, launched with a futuristic vision and trying to alter the existing status quo where the thrust is on deployment of ‘soft power’ to gain power and influence.

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view of Manipal Advanced Research Group.