China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, aimed at connecting more than 60 countries through a network of roads, shipping ports, and airports, has received strong opposition from its neighbor India. And it is the question of China’s true intentions that casts shadows on the US$1 trillion project.
A part of the OBOR initiative is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that runs through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), a region that India considers to be its own territory. If China were to start exerting influence in the region, it could pose a direct threat to India.
“We are all for promoting connectivity… but on the OBOR, our position is that since the so-called CPEC forms a part of OBOR, and it passes through Indian territory, that is where our difficulty lies,” The Indian Express quotes Gopal Baglay, spokesman for the External Affairs Ministry.
And considering that China’s government has a history of aggressively claiming what it considers as theirs, like Taiwan and the South China Sea, allowing the authoritarian regime to have deep control over PoK would be inviting unwanted headaches for India. For if OBOR were to be completed and China became highly dependent on the CPEC to gain access to the Middle Eastern markets, it is very much possible that China would aggressively support Pakistan as far as ownership of PoK is concerned.
The Chinese debt trap
India is also wary of China playing its “debt trap” on Pakistan. The Chinese government has been known to provide loans to underdeveloped countries, fully knowing that these nations won’t be able to repay them. And when the countries default, China simply forces them into accepting their demands.
Zeng Jianyuan, from the National Taiwan University, told The Epoch Times: “Right now, China is trying to continue its expansion and development. By investing in small underdeveloped Asia-Pacific countries that have no way of paying off their loans, the CCP can guarantee lasting control over the bountiful strategic resources these countries possess.”
A case in point being India’s neighbor Sri Lanka. China’s government had given loans to this South Asian nation for the development of the Hambantota port. When Sri Lanka was unable to repay the loan, they were forced to allow China to take control over it. And though the Sri Lankan government says that Beijing will not be using the port for military purposes, comments from Chinese officials suggest otherwise.
India fears that China will simply lure Pakistan into a similar debt trap and eventually force them to sign over a part of PoK as compensation.
To prevent other South Asian and Southeast Asian countries from coming under the control of the Chinese government, India has set up its own development initiatives. The South Asian Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) is one such project that aims to connect Myanmar to India and allow Southeast Asian nations to access Indian and Middle Eastern markets without depending on OBOR.
“The SASEC program focuses on road infrastructure to improve regional connectivity between Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and India (BBIN). The Imphal-Moreh project corridor is also a part of Asian Highway 1 and will also strengthen India’s position at the global level as we are attempting to connect with our neighbors and fulfilling our commitments made at the international level,” Livemint quotes an anonymous Indian government official.
India’s longtime ally Japan has also launched its own Belt and Road initiative to ensure that Asian nations don’t end up depending on China. Both countries are reportedly working on multiple joint projects that would boost connectivity between Asia and the rest of the world.