The great Chinese philosopher Confucius advised "Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself." The negation of this wise advise by the Chinese president Xi Jinping in his hard sell of 'One Belt, One Road' (OBOR) policy , where China's political agenda and its global power ambitions over rides trade and development has ominous portends for India.
What is OBOR?
Proposed by Chinese president Xi Jinping back in 2013, the 'One Belt, One Rote' is an overarching framework for Chinese foreign policy and trade initiative. It has two parts namely:
These two projects are known collectively as One Belt, One Road, or Belt and Road, or the New Silk Road. 68 countries are proposed to be involved with this project spread across Europe, Asia, Africa and New Zealand. China will extend credit lines to develop connectivity/ transportation infrastructure to enable trade.
How does OBOR harm India?
China is a fair weather friend: History is a proof to the fact that despite being trade partners, China has always had an unhealthy interest in India's international relations and has often taken an anti-India stand at international forums. It considers India to be its primary competition South-East Asia and thus India's wariness towards OBOR is completely justified. A powerful China with a large 'influence footprint' will shift the balance of power in favour of China in the region.
Shrinking of India's Sphere of Influence in its neighbourhood: OBOR currently involves almost all South Asian nations except for India and Bhutan thus increasing China's influence where India already has investment projects going on. E.g. , India's loss of monopoly in Nepal is a imminent possibility, with connectivity improvements of Nepal to Chinese ports means an alternate route for procuring goods and services for which currently Nepal is completely dependent on India. It may be mentioned that India does not have the resources to match China's OBOR. India, which itself aims at developing itself as a superpower in South Asia, foresees China to use its trade relations to control politics and international relations in the region thus thwarting India's efforts. Agreeing to OBOR would mean playing second fiddle to China in one's own region.
China's New Empire: Many commentators have dubbed OBOR as a neo colonial arrangement and to turn the world order to China centric. If this new arrangement happens it is most likely that India's bargaining power in world forums and also in solving bilateral issues will get reduced. Also India's international trade in goods and services risk getting supplanted by Chinese goods and Chinese workers. E.g. Indian software export which is a major foreign exchange earner is already facing the heat from the cheap Chinese software industry. Joining India in the ranks of justified sceptics are countries like Japan and Indonesia who feel that China plans to strengthen its hold on the South China Sea through this policy.
The Pakistan Factor: However, the biggest deterrent to India's nod to the OBOR policy is the development of the Karakoram Highway under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor through Pok (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) thus refusing to acknowledge it as Indian territory. Incase India does accept OBOR, it would provide legitimacy to Pakistan's claim over the disputed area, something that India vehemently opposes.
Chinese track record of overseas investments have a bad reputation of not delivering: Cheap credit lines extended to fragile economies which are already reeling in high debt might lead these countries into a debt trap. E.g. countries like Kazakhstan already owe debts worth 80% of their GDP. Chinese investments in Africa has seen large Chinese state-owned companies bring in workers from China ( not hiring locally) and export mined raw materials back home leading to protests. The world and India can ill afford restive local populations and weak nations which easily become breeding ground for international extremist groups extending their influence.
India is building public opinion against the OBOR. The recent joint statement given by Indian PM Narendra Modi and American president Donald Trump stating that they do not support China's initiative on grounds of encroachment of sovereignty and violation of international laws indicates that India has global support to some extent. Moreover India is actively collaborating with Japan in an effort to combine the former's 'Look East' policy and the latter's 'Partnership for Quality Infrastructure' for a more democratic, independent and transparent trade route.
After all, Sovereignty matters more than silk.