- Why it is in the news?
- About the CPEC project
- Benefits to Pakistan
- Arguments in favour of India’s Participation in CPEC
- Why India should not participate in CPEC?
- Can India rely on CPEC?
- India: An obstructionist in the neighbourhood
- What should be India’s stand?
- Way ahead
GS (M) Paper-2: “Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests”
GS (M) Paper-2: “Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.”
India’s Participation in China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC): The Ifs and Buts
Why it is in the news?
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently stated that only by respecting the sovereignty of countries involved, can regional connectivity corridors fulfil their promise and avoid differences and discord.
- China is a country which is very sensitive on matters concerning its sovereignty. So India would expect that China, in turn would have some understanding of India’s sensitivity about its sovereignty.
- The remarks by the Prime Minister needs to be seen in the context of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through Gilgit Baltistan, which is claimed by India but has been under Pakistan’s control since 1947.
About the CPEC project:
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a collection of projects currently under construction at a cost of $46 billion.
- The 3,000-km CPEC connecting Xinjiang with Pakistan’s Gwadar Port through PoK is stated to cost $46 billion.
- This project will shorten the route for China’s energy imports from the Middle East by about 12,000 kms.
- The project includes building of highways, railways as well as pipelines. It is among the six economic corridors conceived under China’s Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road.
- It is intended to rapidly expand and upgrade Pakistani infrastructure as well as deepen and broaden economic links between Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China.
- The corridor is considered to be an extension of China’s ambitious One Belt, One Road initiative, and the importance of CPEC to China is reflected by its inclusion as part of China’s 13th five-year development plan.
Benefits to Pakistan:
- For Pakistan, the Chinese investment in the south-western region of the country is a game-changer for the economy, especially considering the fact that despite the high concentration of mineral resources in the region it has remained the poorest district.
- The $46 billion promised by China will be used in generating close to 17,000 megawatts of electricity at a cost of $34 billion through coal, nuclear and other renewable energy projects. The rest of the money would be utilised in building up transport infrastructure.
Arguments in favour of India’s Participation in CPEC:
India’s Participation in AIIB
- Examples of India co-operating either with China or Pakistan or both have been drawn upon to build a case for India’s participation in CPEC.
- In this regard, the primary and oft-cited example is India’s participation in the Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank (AIIB).
- Advocates of participation in CPEC cite India’s AIIB membership to dismiss its reservations on CPEC.
- In their view, if India could choose to join the AIIB, which may also ultimately fund some CPEC projects, then why avoid participating in that connectivity corridor?
- Another example often cited is the Bangladesh China India Myanmar (BCIM) corridor.
- The argument flowing from this example is that intertwining BCIM and CPEC would contribute to optimizing the “logic of India-China regional cooperation”.
Indian States of Punjab and J&K
- In addition, advocates propose that India should explore the possibility of CPEC being expanded with one of its branches including the Indian states of Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir.
- There is also a reflection of this view in Pakistan, where prominent commentators have observed that the “trade utopia” via CPEC would remain unfulfilled if India were not integrated in the project.
Access to Afghanistan and Central Asia
- Also articulated has been the possibility of India participating in CPEC if Pakistan were to grant it overland access to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Why India should not participate in CPEC?
Weakening of India’s Legitimate Claims
- The ‘buts’ in India’s CPEC participation are manifold and complex. This is so because any Indian participation would inextricably be linked to the country’s legitimate claims on PoK.
- India must not lose an opportunity to communicate its concerns to the international community.
- It also needs to muster efforts to ensure that its territorial position is not diluted further in order to avoid past situations such as Tibet and Aksai Chin.
Lack of Trust
- India shares a great deal of trust deficit with China and Pakistan and has a history of conflict with both.
- As a result, even though suggestions to re-approach the project pragmatically have been made, no advocate has overruled the principle strands of contention that continue to mar India’s equations with China and Pakistan.
Enhanced Chinese Presence in the Indian Ocean
- CPEC rests on a Chinese plan to secure and shorten its supply lines through Gwadar with an enhanced presence in the Indian Ocean.
- Hence, it is widely believed that upon CPEC’s fruition, an extensive Chinese presence will undermine India’s influence in the Indian Ocean.
- The possibility of a robust naval presence at a key location that may put China in “a commanding position at the mouth of the Gulf” in India’s perceived “home-ground” is fraught with implications for India
- The CPEC assets in PoK can be used militarily against India during war is a further source of concern for the security establishment
Can India rely on CPEC?
It is wishful thinking to argue that participation in CPEC would enhance India’s connectivity options. There are enough cues in history to suggest otherwise.
- For decades, India’s connectivity options on its west have been foreclosed owing to Pakistan’s obstinate resistance to cooperation and its control over PoK.
- Also, given the longstanding frictions and unstable bilateral ties, it is naïve to reckon that connectivity via Pakistan or PoK would be unproblematic and smooth.
- Here, it is worth noting how, despite close strategic ties, Pakistan has used its connectivity access as a lever to bully the United States like it did by obstructing the passage of NATO trucks into Afghanistan across the Torkham crossing in retaliation for the US attack on Salala.
- With India, things could become even more complicated and ugly because of Pakistan’s animus towards India.
- A sequential pattern shows how China and Pakistan have stapled their partnership to India’s strategic detriment: the Sino-Pak Border Agreement 1963, defence and clandestine nuclear and ballistic missile cooperation, and multiple Chinese vetoes at multilateral forums including the UN on issues of critical importance to India have all adversely impacted upon India’s core interests.
- While still holding out that Kashmir is a bilateral problem, China, at Pakistan’s behest, has built several infrastructure projects in both parts of PoK. In similar flagrant disregard, the CPEC too is being taken forward despite India’s objections.
- Projections envisaging that India-Pakistan-China tripartite cooperation on CPEC would usher in greater connectivity, stability and establish peace are fanciful unless existing equations transform radically.
India: An obstructionist in the neighbourhood
- China’s proclamations about developing a string of connectivity and infrastructure projects in India’s vicinity has stirred political and popular perceptions in countries in the proximate neighbourhood.
- China’s increasing footprints in the South Asian region is often portrayed as India losing its strategic hold.
- A case in point is the construction of the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka where China reportedly filled in for India (though there is no official confirmation on whether the project was ever formally offered to India).
- India’s caution on the BCIM corridor, inordinate delay in moving ahead with the Chabahar Port and reservations on CPEC are being increasingly cited by detractors to present the country as an unaccommodating, reluctant, regional player.
- Such misrepresentations have cost India dearly. Despite being the largest economy in the South Asian region, the country has suffered a considerable dent in its image due to a perceptible rise in hostile perceptions amongst nations in its contiguity.
What should be India’s stand?
- India must closely watch the geopolitical shifts in and around the subcontinent where China has begun to feature in national calculations. India’s ambitions on expanding multilateral engagement is unequivocally contingent upon the China factor.
- Whether it is RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) or connecting the CPEC to the International North South Transport Corridor in the longer term, India cannot afford to appear as sitting in “isolation.
- There is also a strong view that India should not just reject the CPEC as “unviable” and instead think in terms of dealing with a regional order that will inevitably tilt towards China if the project were to succeed.
- Further, India must prepare to deal with challenges stemming from the ongoing realignment between China, Pakistan, Russia, Iran and Afghanistan. Hence, what India needs to do is to generate viable options to secure its interests while not compromising upon genuine strategic/territorial concerns.
- India must show resolve in terms of fulfilling the regional commitments that it makes. It must further strengthen existing leverages derived from a diverse geography, demographic size and growth indicators to project itself as an indispensable player in regional development.
- For instance, India’s vast peninsular expanse could be critical in China’s Maritime Silk Road initiative. Apart from this, India must handle emerging strategic realignments, including proximity to the US, smartly, so as to attain its objectives in the region.
- Currently, there is little that India can do to stall CPEC except for diplomatically articulating its objections and make it “un-implementable”.
- The fate of CPEC, projected as the pivotal flagship project from the OBOR stable, is quite crucial.
- In the face of India’s reservations, the failure of CPEC to take off would mean a loss of repute for China and Pakistan, something which both countries would try hard to avoid.
- India’s future strategy thrust on CPEC must be based on a careful reassessment of the discernible ‘ifs’ and the ‘buts’.