By Liu Zongyi Source: Global Times Published: 2016-11-14
South Asian academia has done a lot of research and had a lot of debates about China`s One Belt and One Road initiative. When Chinese scholars communicate with South Asian scholars, we found they still have some misunderstanding and misperception about the B&R initiative.
Internally, it is a strategy of economic restructuring and regional development. It aims to change the imbalance of development of industries and regions, help the middle and western part of China and encourage these regions to integrate into the global value chain.
Externally, the initiative is an open, inclusive and equal international cooperative initiative. China is just the initiator. Any country that is willing to cooperate will become an equal partner. China hopes this initiative can synergize with the development plans and regional economic integration plans of other countries along the Belt and Road.
In the South Asia and Indian Ocean region, the B&R initiative comprises the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM) and China-Nepal-India economic corridor. China wants to cooperate with South Asian and Indian Ocean countries by improving infrastructure, such as roads and ports, and by building industrial parks along roads or near ports.
Furthermore, since the B&R initiative is an open initiative, China would like to synergize it with regional cooperation initiatives and domestic development plans along the Belt and Road, such as the New Silk Road Project of the US, the Indo-Pacific economic corridor and Mekong-Ganga cooperative initiative, to form a regional economic cooperation network that extends from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean, from Central Asia to South Asia.
Three years have passed since the B&R initiative formally launched. We have found that it has had some influence on South Asia.
First, the B&R initiative improved infrastructure construction and economic development in South Asia, and economic and people-to-people interaction between China and South Asian countries. Under the framework of the initiative, CPEC and many important cooperative projects between China and India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are advancing vigorously, which promote these countries` economies a great deal. China has become a main source of foreign direct investment (FDI) to South Asian countries, and even the largest source of FDI to some of them.
Secondly, the B&R initiative has stimulated South Asian regional connectivity. Encouraged or under pressure from the initiative, South Asian countries have put forward plans to start or revive their own connectivity projects, such as Project Mausaum, Spice Route, Cotton Route, Sagar Mala, and the India-Iran-Afghanistan trilateral cooperative projects. These projects will not conflict with the B&R initiative. In fact, they are complementary.
We cannot deny that the B&R initiative brings some negative geopolitical effects, although it`s not China`s real intention. Due to deep-rooted strategic suspicions from some countries toward China, the geopolitical factor in the initiative has been exaggerated. Some countries treat the initiative as a geopolitical competition with a zero-sum mindset. Some big powers in the region or beyond tried to openly or covertly destroy the infrastructure construction and economic cooperation programs between China and South Asian countries, sometimes by using the levers of bilateral or multilateral security, military and strategic cooperation. We are concerned that geopolitical competition will harm regional peace and stability.
India is regarded as one of the four key countries along the Belt and Road. In the past two years since President Xi Jinping visited India, bilateral economic and investment activities have been enhanced. China and India have been cooperating on many large projects, especially in the field of infrastructure construction. There is also much cooperation among companies. China is building industrial parks in India, and many delegations of Indian local governments are coming to China to attract FDI. The fourth China-India strategic economic dialogue was held on October 7. The two countries signed several agreements on Chinese investment. China has allowed Indian IT companies to enter the Chinese market further. All this cooperation is not under the name of the B&R initiative, but to China, all of them are under the framework of the initiative. The current cooperation model between China and India is acceptable if the Indian side does not exaggerate the geopolitical implications of the B&R initiative.
The author is a visiting fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.