China’s lure to countries with its apparent cause of a global trade route of the 21st century threatens India’s external sovereignty and future trade route security.
China has emerged as the new global superpower of the day. It is threatening the external sovereignty of India with a slew of ongoing activities based on solidifying China’s Soft Power in the Indian Ocean. China has been strengthening its relationships with South Asian and West Asian countries through infrastructure projects and large aids.
China has been luring countries to its apparent cause of a global trade route of the 21st century. Moreover, it also challenged India’s sovereignty in two different border areas.
Geopolitical and strategically planned initiatives by China have immensely found bidders in Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The activities of the Chinese government of the day are reminiscent of colonial times of the East India Company where it used all tricks in the bag to attract nations into its ambit. Its Initiatives are trying to build a new status quo and build its regional hegemony.
OBOR: “One Belt One Road” initiative
OBOR is also known as the “Belt and Road Initiative”. It is an integrated project of twin initiatives: “the Silk Road Economic Belt” (SREB) and “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” (MSR). Here, “Belt” refers to the land routes covering road and rail routes, oil and natural gas pipelines and other infrastructure projects stretching from Xian in central China, through Central Asia and finally reaching Moscow, Rotterdam, and Venice.
Whereas “Road” refers to the sea routes, i.e. 21st Century Maritime Silk Road covering different projects of ports and coastal infrastructure. China’s ‘Road’ map stretches from South and Southeast Asia to East Africa and then the Mediterranean Sea.
Belt and Road Advantage
SREB will bring together China, Central Asia, Russia and the Baltic region of Europe. It will link China to the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea. It will also connect China with South-East Asian countries, South Asian countries and above all easy access to the Indian Ocean.
China is also in plans to build a railway line which will be known as the Qinghai-Tibet railway. It will be between Tibet and Nepal connecting the country to the Silk Road. Eventually, connecting China with Nepal and South Asian countries.
China has already announced an investment of over $1 trillion in various infrastructure projects. Furthermore, it is funding the participating countries by offering them low-cost loans. Many of these countries are positive towards OBOR like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for the massive investment by China. Many among these participating countries have also fallen into a debt trap which makes them vulnerable to Chinese intervention.
CPEC: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
CPEC is a 3,000 km economic corridor that will facilitate the economic interests of both China and Pakistan. It is a collection of undergoing infrastructure projects consisting of railway, oil and gas pipelines in Pakistan amounting to $62 billion.
As per the claim, CPEC is intended to modernize infrastructure and develop the economy in Pakistan by strengthening the transportation network, building energy projects and special economic zones. Herein, this corridor will link the seaport of Gwadar to China’s Southern Xinjiang Railway in Kashgar.
Moreover, this corridor will further join the OBOR initiative to strengthen China’s vision of reviving the old silk route with the West Asian and European countries.
Why is this CPEC important for China?
The corridor is strategically and geopolitically significant in ensuring a secure trade route for China trade during a contingency situation. India also has a formidable hold in the Indian Ocean, especially the Indian Navy base in Andaman and Nicobar Islands near the Strait of Malacca.
The Strait of Malacca is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world. It connects the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Thus, it is also an important trade route for many countries including India, China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan.
Almost 80% of China’s fuel from the Middle Eastern countries passes through the Strait of Malacca, making it vital to China’s economy.
Why India objects CPEC?
The CPEC corridor is passing through the Gilgit-Baltistan territory which is a part of POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir), where India claims its right since inception in 1947. It also raises the question of Indian sovereignty over the J&K territory as it is always a bone of contention among India, Pakistan, and China.
The increasing activity of China in POK makes India’s claim to the entire J&K more vulnerable.
As a result, Pakistan can use this corridor to infiltrate the Indian territory and use its weapon of terrorism against India and that too after the abrogation of Article 370.
The presence of Chinese troops in Gilgit-Baltistan has already been reported. India cannot rule out the possibility that the Chinese army during any hostile situations can encircle India. China will have their own stake in POK and can use soft power as an excuse to stand with Pakistan against India.
What should India have done?
Instead of outrightly opposing the CPEC initiative, India could have joined the hands with China by bilateral talks that China offered to New Delhi. This would have helped India to get access to the CPEC corridor which eventually links Indian trades to the OBOR and West Asian countries. Moreover, this corridor could have been used to keep an eye on Pakistan’s intention on India’s J&K territory.
Former Indian Ambassador Melkulangara Bhadrakumar regarded this corridor as important for India’s interest vis-à-vis Central Asian countries. He also warned that India might lose the chance if it still opposes and remain isolated from this ongoing corridor project.
String of Pearls
The String of Pearls is a geopolitical strategy developed by China to further its intentions in the Indian Ocean region. It is a term coined by the US and often used by the analysts, referred to as the Chinese game plan of encircling India through many airfields and ports, expand and modernize military forces, and making strong diplomatic relations with trading partners countries.
Chinese are slowly dominating the Indian Ocean with an existing presence in Chittagong port in Bangladesh, Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Maldives, Somalia, Seychelles, Gwadar port in Pakistan and Port Sudan in Sudan.
China’s influence on Myanmar could be easily observed through the 2,400 km long gas pipeline stretching from Myanmar to China. China also has a presence in the Kyaukpyu port of Myanmar. It has also been reported that China too has a military base in the Coco islands of Myanmar.
The 99-year lease Game plan
China has repeatedly been pushing Bangladesh to allow a naval base near the Chittagong port. Similarly, China is also trying to make the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka into a naval base which the Sri Lanka government is wary of allowing.
A Chinese company built the port and was able to take control for 99 years through a lease from the Sri Lankan government because of later debt trap situation. Now, Hambantota has become a serious concern for India as China can use this port as a naval base against India.
A few years back the Chinese government requested Sri Lanka to allow China to dock one of its nuclear submarines at Hambantota, which the Sri Lankan government outrightly rejected. China has also developed a naval base in Cocos Keeling Island (Australian External Territory).
How India is tackling this situation?
To counter the Gwadar Port of Pakistan, India is building the Chabahar port of Iran which is located on the Gulf of Oman. Strategically, it is significant for India as this transit route will help it gaining supremacy over export and import, especially through road connectivity to Afghanistan and later entering Central Asia. Moreover, in the case of volatility, the Indian Navy can be deployed in Chabahar to counter the presence of the Chinese navy in Gwadar.
South China Sea
It has been a bone of contention among the countries circling the South China Sea such as China, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei. This is primarily because of China’s claim over the largest part of the region which is not acceptable by the other countries. The South China Sea is rich in natural resources such as fishing ground, oil, and natural gas exploration.
India has a huge stake in this particular region as it is involved with the littoral states through naval exercises, strategic partnerships, oil exploration, and many diplomatic dialogues at multilateral forums. Furthermore, ONGC and Petro Vietnam are cooperating together in oil and natural gas exploration.
So, these island nations along with the US find India vital in balancing soft power in the region to counter China. It is also crucial for India to counter the activities conducted by the Chinese government in the Indian Ocean. This is done by influencing the South China Sea and if possible, dictate it because over 60% of India’s trade passes through this region.
Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy
India, Japan, Australia, and the US are the member countries that are articulating the region with four different pillars. Moreover, these include respect for sovereignty and independence; peaceful resolution of disputes; free, fair and reciprocal trade; and adherence to international rules and norms.
It is a direct counterattack against the Chinese expansion in the Indian and the Pacific Ocean. India conducts many naval exercises with the US, ASEAN countries, Japan, and others, such as Malabar maritime exercise, Milan naval exercise, SIMBEX, and SLINEX.
In June 2018, PM Modi in his keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue called it a natural geographical region mentioning the 10 ASEAN countries. He gave impetus to the freedom of navigation which was also supported by the US for decades.
Strategic Importance of the Indo-Pacific Relationship
This region is not only of strategic importance for India and the US on balancing the power in Asia but great market access for American and Indian companies.
It is equally crucial for catering to the need for oil and natural gas. Therefore, FOIP policy is also based on Japan’s Diamond Strategic Alliance Structure. It is also for the revival of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad).
India does not fully comply with the US idea of the Indo-Pacific region by only countering China’s Soft Power. But India is rather looking forward to building the bilateral relation with China and other littoral countries and thus democratize the region.
Moreover, SAGAR Programme (Security and Growth for All in the Region) by India is a maritime initiative that gives priority to the IOR (Indian Ocean Region) for ensuring peace, stability, and prosperity in the region. Therefore, it is in line with the principles of the Indian Ocean Rim Association.