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China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

Context:

Recently, Pakistan and China decided to welcome any third country joining the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

  • In context to Afghanistan, it had broken new ground in strengthening international and regional connectivity.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (India and neighborhood-relations, agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)?
  2. What is Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) One Belt One Road (OBOR)?
  3. India’s perspective of the CPEC
  4. India’s Perspective of the BRI/OBOR
  5. Steps taken by India to Counter the BRI/OBOR

What is the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)?

  • China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a collection of infrastructure projects that are under construction throughout Pakistan since 2013.
  • CPEC is intended to rapidly upgrade Pakistan’s required infrastructure and strengthen its economy by the construction of modern transportation networks, numerous energy projects, and special economic zones.
  • On 13 November 2016, CPEC became partly operational when Chinese cargo was transported overland to Gwadar Port for onward maritime shipment to Africa and West Asia.
  • A vast network of highways and railways are to be built under the aegis of CPEC that will span the length and breadth of Pakistan.
  • CPEC passes through the disputed region of Kashmir where Indian and Pakistani border guards have occasionally exchanged fire across the Line of Control. The Government of India, which shares tense relations with Pakistan, objects to the CPEC project as upgrade works to the Karakoram Highway are taking place in Gilgit Baltistan; territory that India claims as its own.

What is Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) One Belt One Road (OBOR)?

  • One Belt One Road (OBOR), also called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the brainchild of Chinese President Xi Jinping, is an ambitious economic development and commercial project that focuses on improving connectivity and cooperation among multiple countries spread across the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe spanning about 78 countries.
  • Initially announced in the year 2013 with the purpose of restoring the ancient Silk Route that connected Asia and Europe.
  • The project involves building a big network of roadways, railways, maritime ports, power grids, oil and gas pipelines, and associated infrastructure projects.
  • The project covers two parts. The first is called the “Silk Road Economic Belt,” which is primarily land-based and is expected to connect China with Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe.
  • The second is called the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” which is sea-based and is expected to will China’s southern coast to the Mediterranean, Africa, South-East Asia, and Central Asia.
  • Landlocked Nepal has recently joined OBOR by signing a deal that will help it improve cross-border connectivity with China, and Pakistan is set to benefit from the $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that will connect southwestern China to and through Pakistan, allowing access to Arabian Sea routes.

India’s perspective of the CPEC

  • India has opposed CPEC since inception in view of its opaque nature and uneven balance towards Beijing.
  • As the corridor passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), India has flagged its objection about Chinese project “that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity”. The strategic location of port of Gwadar could be used against Indian SLOCs, threatening hydrocarbon supply through the Strait of Homruz.
  • With Chinese control over transport routes in Pakistan and growing Chinese relations with Iran, India’s access to Afghanistan and Central Asia may be restricted.
  • As Chinese economic influence increases in South Asian countries, the balance may tilt towards Beijing, with even a futuristic containment policy towards India.
  • Further as CPEC integrates Pakistan and China economically, politically and militarily, any future conflict for India could be on two fronts.

India’s Perspective of the BRI/OBOR

  • As China launched its OBOR in 2013, India displayed a lukewarm response to the proposal in view of its opacity and one-sided control with Beijing.
  • However, Chinese empirical planning has ensured project inroads into the entire IPR with economic and strategic challenges to India in its immediate neighborhood in South Asia.
  • India has been among the very few countries which didn’t attend Belt and Road Forum (BRF) in May 2017, attended by heads of 29 states and representatives from 100 countries, including the US and Japan.
  • The principle opposition of India to CPEC is about the ‘core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity’.

Bangladesh

  • Even though the present ruling party has ensured strong relations with New Delhi, Chinese economic influence is evident.
  • With Bangladesh formally joining OBOR initiative in 2016, New Delhi is making concerted efforts to maintain its balance.

Nepal

  • The political turmoil in Nepal in recent past has occasionally disturbed the strong relations with New Delhi.
  • While recent cancellation of a few projects displays Nepal’s sensitivity towards ‘debt–trap’, it’s response to New Delhi led BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) exercise recently gave opposing signals.
  • As China offers its ports for trade with land-locked Nepal, New Delhi is required to put up lot of economic and diplomatic efforts to ensure long term bonding with Nepal is closely maintained.

Myanmar

  • While BRI has manifested itself as CPEC on India’s western front, the eastern side would be covered by CMEC (China Myanmar Economic Corridor).
  • With MoU already signed, it intends to connect Yunnan province in China to Kyaukpyu port in Burma.
  • The project would provide China an alternate route from Strait of Malacca for hydrocarbon supply, along with increased Chinese strategic presence in Bay of Bengal.

Sri Lanka

  • With the change in government, the ‘debt trap’ has most glaringly been exposed with Hambantota port project in southern Sri Lanka.
  • As present government realized its inability to pay off the huge debts and unviability of the project, the port was leased to Chinese for 99 years, a stark similarity to history of Hong Kong leasing to British Imperial powers.
  • While Colombo has presently warded off possibilities of PLAN usage of these assets; future is uncertain considering the continuation of Chinese ‘cheque book diplomacy’.

Maldives

  • Maldives is the most glaring example of strategic value of BRI for Beijing.
  • A small archipelago in Indian Ocean, its strategic location at the prime SLOC makes it a key asset.
  • The years of Indian diplomatic, economic, and even military support has been dwarfed by the huge Chinese investment in a short time period.

Steps taken by India to Counter the BRI/OBOR

  • India has taken its own steps to provide practical alternatives to BRI which are economically viable and strategically balance Chinese spreading sphere of influence.
  • India has rightly transformed its ‘Look East’ policy to ‘Act East’ policy. Strong relations with Vietnam, pursuance of Trilateral Highway project, proposed Mekong-Ganga Economic Corridor, strengthening BIMSTEC and developing maritime relations with Indonesia and Singapore are steps in this ambit.
  • Further with ‘Go West’ strategy, India is pursuing to be a partner in International North South Transport Corridor, ensuring access to Central Asia.
  • India’s interest in development of strategic Chabahar port in Iran is viewed as a counter to Gwadar. Additionally, India and Japan are also collectively working on ‘Asia Africa Growth Corridor’ (AAGC).
  • On the strategic front, India has donned the role of a ‘Net Security Provider’ in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
  • The Indian Navy, transforming its operational philosophy to ‘mission-based deployment’ is playing a key role in ‘securing the seas’.
  • Through the conduct of joint naval exercises such as Malabar, Varuna, MILAN, coordinated patrol with neighbouring regional navies; participation in RIMPAC (Rim of Pacific Exercise), KOMODO multinational exercises; goodwill visits to foreign ports and HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) – the Indian Navy has built strong partnerships with strategic partners.
  • Further, through strong security relations with the IOR countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius and Oman and leading role in promoting collective security forums like Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), India has gained a leading and respectful position in the IOR.

-Source: The Hindu


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