By Liu Zongyi Source: Global Times Published: 2017-6-1
The two-day Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in mid-May held in Beijing attracted more than 130 countries. Even the US and Japan sent high-level delegations to participate in China`s biggest diplomatic event of the year. India was the only country among those along the Belt and Road that skipped the meeting on this signature project.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi`s decline to make appearance despite the invitation of the Chinese government has set off a storm of public clamor.
As a sovereign state, India has complete freedom to choose whether to attend the forum or not. India`s Ministry of External Affairs released a statement on May 13 elaborating the reasons for India`s absence, which was found farfetched by many Chinese observers.
India`s presence would not have exerted any influence on the success of the forum, but some Chinese observers worry that its suspicion over the Belt and Road initiative would worsen China-India relations.
One week after the forum in Beijing, India held the 52th Annual General Meeting of the African Development Bank Group in its western state of Gujarat.
At the meeting, Modi pitched an "Asia-Africa growth corridor," in actuality a duplication of the "freedom corridor" designed by his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe during his Japan visit last November. In the eyes of Indian media outlets this Asia-Africa connectivity initiative is a counter to China`s Belt and Road.
Moreover, the Indian press has also given much coverage to the US plan to restart the New Silk Road and the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor initiatives, both of which they claim will rival Beijing`s Belt and Road and New Delhi will play an important role in.
Indian government functionaries and media outlets have been displaying desperate strategic anxiety as they take all international cooperation aimed at interconnectivity as a countermeasure to the Belt and Road, when even Washington and Tokyo dispatched delegations at the 11th hour to Beijing.
Rolled out by then secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2011, the New Silk Road initiative focuses on Afghanistan as a main hub and was designed to link Central Asia and South Asia through trade and energy cooperation in an effort to find a solution to the intractable Afghanistan issue.
The Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor plan was proposed in 2014, similar to the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation initiative by India in 2001. Beijing does not repel these designs and, if there is any possibility, hopes to integrate them with the Belt and Road.
In addition, neither the so-called "freedom corridor" nor the "Asia-Africa growth corridor" collides with the Belt and Road. Over the past three years, the implementation of the Belt and Road initiative has largely promoted connectivity in South Asia, the Indian Ocean and the African continent and ramped up their economic growth.
The connectivity projects by New Delhi and Japan, though raised either to compete with or contain China`s sphere of influence, have objectively facilitated trade cooperation, which is exactly China`s original intention.
India`s soft power through wide economic collaboration and people-to-people exchanges with African nations is worthwhile for China to learn from.
New Delhi was among the proponents of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor. The third joint study group meeting on the corridor was concluded in Kolkata last month, which despite a failure to make substantial progress demonstrated India`s expectation for more interconnection in its northeastern region and with Southeast Asia through a land bridge over Bangladesh. China is pleased to see this progress.
In actuality, Beijing and New Delhi have a slew of cooperation projects already in store. China`s investment has contributed significantly to India`s infrastructure and socio-economic development; private and local cooperation between the two sides have seen dramatic progress. On the other hand, it is difficult to push forward a number of shovel-ready projects due to the Indian government`s political concerns.
The Belt and Road initiative remains open to India. As Chinese President Xi Jinping noted as the Belt and Road forum came to a close, "the Belt and Road initiative is not set by ideology. We won`t set a political agenda. It`s not exclusive." Therefore, as long as the leaders of other countries do not impose self-reclusiveness or take suggestions from ignorant advisors in order to win elections by inciting nationalism and populism to create estrangement, the Belt and Road project will, as always, be welcoming with open arms to them.
The author is a visiting fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.