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“One Belt One Road” (OBOR), the grand project of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream”, a woven network of roads, ports, railways and other links from East China through Southeast and South and Central Asia through all the way to Europe. The “belt” of land-based links is paired with a 21st century “Maritime Silk Road” stretching from Australia to Zanzibar. Launched by President Xi in 2013, its ambitions exceed the Marshall plan to rebuild Europe after the Second World War.

The enormous project of OBOR is a reincarnation of Han dynasty era Silk Road (207 BC – 220 CE), stretching from Japan and Korean Peninsula to the Mediterranean Sea. The main traders using the ancient trade route include the Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Turkmens, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Georgians, and Bactrians. Thus it was a great melting pot of great civilizations, a bridge for the East and the West. It was a great driving source for not only the Chinese civilization, but also for other great empires in South Asia, Persia, Arabian lands and even Europe. Xi’s OBOR promises the same prosperity for the participants.

China’s growing confidence and soft power has emboldened her to move forward with this gigantic scheme. It is now the second largest economy of the world and within 2026, China will overtake USA as the biggest economy of the world. China is already the world’s biggest trading post of the world.  These are the tangible facts for confirming the Chinese ascendance. China’s Export and Import Bank of China alone lent a whopping $80 billion in 2015, compared with more than $27 billion from Asian Development Bank. Chinese involvement in developing infrastructures including building railways, ports, roads, dams and industrial corridors is helping to expand its economic and geopolitical dominance across Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. This data shows, that for some countries, China alone is the largest financier.

Initially looked as a rival step taken to counter last US President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the expectations from the OBOR project is growing, since the US pullout from TPP by US President Trump. China experts and analysts are suggesting that US role as a major player in the world will be sidelined more with the initiatives.

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The “One Belt” refers to a “Silk Road Economic Belt” from China through Central Asia to Europe. The “One Road” refers to Beijing’s concept of a “21st century Maritime Silk Road” to connect China to Europe via the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. The initiative involves developing six economic corridors:

  1. China-Mongolia-Russia corridor
  2. New Eurasian “Land Bridge”
  3. Corridor from China to Central Asia and Western Asia
  4. China-Indochina peninsula corridor
  5. China-Pakistan economic corridor
  6. Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor

As long as South Asia is concerned, India will always come in to the foray. India is also home to another great ancient civilization, sharing rich cultural connection with Chinese civilization, dating back from the days of the great Buddhist scholar Atish Dipankar. India has the chance to become a key player and partner in this ambitious project. According to consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), India is poised to become the second largest economy of the world by 2050.

Although the India and China relations have roots to ancient past, but the relations were not always rosy. The two nuclear armed neighbors fought a brief war in 1962, and still have unresolved territorial disputes. India always looks at China with contention due to the deep strategic partnership with Pakistan, another nuclear armed power in South Asia and the arch rival of India. That is why New Delhi always tries to reach out to Beijing as a rival. China also strongly disapproves of hosting of Dalai Lama, an exiled Tibetan leader inside India and looks wearily at the Indian patrol in disputed South China Sea. New Delhi always accuses her giant trans-Himalayan neighbor of projecting unwanted influence over other South Asian countries; especially it is concerned with the huge infrastructure development activities in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Recent reaching out to Nepal by Beijing has added to New Delhi’s concerns. The thwarting of India’s introduction in to NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) by China has dismayed New Delhi.

But this negative mindset of New Delhi about Beijing’s reaching out to the South Asian countries has been enhanced due to her failure to recognize China’s economic success, which shared parity with India in 1981. Beijing transformed herself from a closed economy to the world’s largest trading economy. China received huge boasts from the economic reforms set by Den Xiaoping, which helped to maintain strong economic growths over the 1990s to 2011. China simultaneously progressed in the field of Science and Technology with the growing economy, the world looked at awe in to China, when it built a gigantic 13600 miles (22000 km) long bullet train network, covering every large cities and tourist destinations inside China. Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge hailed by The Guardian as “one of the seven modern wonders in the world,” it is the world’s longest bridge currently under construction. China has rapidly developed its space research arena and has been able to send in its main carrier rocket in to the space for future space missions of China. Many Indians are amazed with these achievements of China. Beijing is the largest trading partner of India; their total trade amounted to around $71 thousand million in 2014-15 fiscal years, hugely in favor of Beijing. Chinese investments in India are also rising. It grew six folds to $870 million in 2015 from 2014. During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India China has committed $ 20 billion investments in India.
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China’s soft power, fueled by its economy and foreign reserve has paved the way for it to become an alternative source of finance. Many Least Developed Countries (LDC) and developing countries are looking at China for investments. China played a leading role in the formation of New Development Bank (NDB) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which are now rivaling Asian Development Bank (ADB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

India has also played a positive role in developing NDB and AIIB. India is a key stakeholder of the BRICS led NDB with 20% share and second largest stakeholder of China pioneered AIIB with 9.0976% share. This picture clearly depicts India’s willingness to lead the world by harnessing the development of the world along with China.

Still, India expressed her reservations over the OBOR project through her foreign secretary on March 3, 2016 and hasn’t given further feedback on it yet. This position of India is favored by the Western allies and China skeptic outlets. Given that India’s strong backing of NDB and AIIB, it will be a strategic embarrassment for New Delhi, if it ultimately backtracks from OBOR. What New Delhi is failing to understand that, China believes in development through business, co-operation and peace. China strongly believes that its achievements were only possible due to peace and business and war will only bring in catastrophe for her achievements, for her trade flourishes with peace. Perhaps due to this notion, China will be at stake when a major conflict outbreaks around its backyards and neighborhoods. After all, China will not indulge in a self destructive competition with the West, which cost Soviet Union dearly with its subsequent disintegration.

India can be a valuable and major partner in this regard with China to raise the curtain of an Asian dream of development through the flourishing of trade and cultural bonding, like it used to be in the ancient Silk Road era. If New Delhi leaves herself out from OBOR, it will ultimately isolate itself more, the isolation it fears. It’s the choice of New Delhi: “Will she lead the world with China to prosperity or will she embrace seclusion and isolation?”

References:

  1. Miho Museum News (Shiga, Japan) Volume 23 (March 2009). “Eurasian winds toward Silla”
  2. Gan, Fuxi (2009).“The silk road and ancient Chinese glass”. Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics, Chinese Academy of Sciences (Ancient Glass Research along the Silk Road, World Scientific ed.). p. 41. ISBN 9812833560.
  3. Elisseeff, Vadime (2001). The Silk Roads: Highways of Culture and Commerce. UNESCO Publishing / Berghahn Books. ISBN 978-92-3-103652-1.
  4. Jerry Bentley, Old World Encounters: Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 32.
  5. “Portrait of Atiśa [Tibet (a Kadampa monastery)] (1993.479)”. Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. October 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-11.
  6. Compare:Hansen, Valerie (2012). The Silk Road. OUP USA. p. 218. ISBN 9780195159318. Retrieved 2016-07-22. Jewish merchants have left only a few traces on the Silk Road.
  7. China and the United States: Tale of Two Giant Economies 
  8. The World in 2050
  9. China GDP Annual Growth Rate (1989-2017) 
  10. The annual data of China’GDP: published on China NBS: National data – annual – national accounts – Gross Domestic Product; Figures for the current year 2015 are based on the Statistical Communiqué of the People’s Republic of China on the 2016 National Economic and Social Development
  11. Members of New Development Bank (NDB) 
  12. Members and Prospective members of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank 
  13. “Total Trade”. nic.in. Department of Commerce. 2015–16. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  14. “Chinese Investments in India increased by six times : Report”
  15. India opposed to China’s One-Belt-One-Road 
  16. Where Will China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative Lead?  
  17. Why India Must Embrace China’s One Belt One Road Plan

 

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