OBOR: Is India Staring at Regional Isolation?
THE CITIZEN EDITORIAL
Chinese President Xi Jinping whole inaugurating the high profile Belt and Road Forum in Beijing today said, in what can be taken as a direct rejoinder to the Indian justification for boycotting the initiative, “all countries should respect each other’s sovereignty, dignity and territorial integrity, each other’s development paths and social systems, and each other’s core interests and major concerns.”
India had in a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs maintained, “no country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.” And further, “Connectivity projects must be pursued in a manner that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
In a response that was not lost on the world, President Xi made it clear that sovereignty and integrity was not a one way process. In recent weeks relations between China and India have dipped considerably, with Beijing raising its claim to Arunachal Pradesh again after a gap of several years. This was after the visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh, that created public hostility between the two neighbours.
Without referring to India President Xi said, “all countries should respect each other’s sovereignty, dignity and territorial integrity, each other’s development paths and social systems, and each other’s core interests and major concerns.” And in the process made it apparent that China has given up on wooing India to join the initiative and was now going full steam ahead without New Delhi on board. “Get Lost” seemed to be the message as senior diplomat MK Bhadrakumar said.
It is not clear to anyone what India hopes to gain from this position. More so, as event the United States changed its position as late as Thursday to attend the inauguration. This comes in the wake of articles and advise from American think tanks that Washington would do well to be part of this initiative, albeit a watchful part. US President Donald Trump deputing his special assistant and senior director for Asia at the National Security Council, Matt Pottinger.
All South Asian countries attended the meeting with Pakistan and Sri Lanka being represented by their heads of government and state respectively. Russia’s Vladamir Putin was present as was Turkey’s Erdogan amongst others. Asia was well represented, with India standing out alone in the block as it were. By not even deputing a delegation New Delhi has made it clear that it is not interested, instead of using the more diplomatic route and keeping at least a couple of fingers and toes between the door to prevent it from closing. Diplomacy is about opening doors, not shutting these tight through what seems to be little more than ego and petulance at this stage.
China is not interested in war and conflict, as it is focusing on building a sound economic ladder upwards. Its importance was realised by successive Prime Ministers from Rajiv Gandhi onwards, with BJPs Atal Bihar Vajpayee taking concrete measures to institutionalise dialogue on the sensitive border issues, and keep relations on an even keel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the first PM to actually rock the boat, with applause of course from the ageing and retired establishment that lives in the past, and what is now referred to generally as the ‘nationalist’ lobby. Relations with China have moved out from the realm of ‘so so’ to ‘rocky’ for no reason at all.
This black and white approach is old hat, and cannot work in a world ruled by diplomatic nuances as reflected in the US position on OBOR now. Making an enemy of China at this stage will prove to be very negative, a fact realised by former NSA Brajesh Mishra when he cleared the way for Vajpayee’s visit and ensured the institutionalisation of a dialogue that not only had Sikkim disappearing from the Chinese map, but also kept Arunachal out of the public discourse for long years. PM Modi and his team should draw lessons from the BJPs earlier government, instead of following half baked policies based on advise pouring out of Delhi’s incestuous drawing rooms and corridors of power. There seems to be little more strategic reasoning behind the decision to keep out of OBOR than that.