China Still Keen on India Joining CPEC …?

Tukoji R. Pandit

India has repeatedly voiced its reservations against CPEC- the $60 billion economic corridor China is building from Kashgar in Xinjinag to Gwadar on Balochistan coast of Pakistan.  Yet, Beijing has not given up wooing New Delhi to participate in the venture under President Xi Jinping’s ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.

China has been assuring that the corridor is not directed against any ‘third country’—which, of course, is India. It is an assurance that rings hollow. More so, as China, in concert with Pakistan, pursues an India policy of hostility, not friendship or reconciliation, claiming Indian territories in the North-east as its own. The Chinese intentions appear malicious, especially seen in the context of frequent threats and homilies directed at India.

China uses its state-controlled media to convey unfriendly messages to India in no uncertain terms, thinking it absolves the State of owning confrontational statements. And the Chinese media has been reminding India of China’s vastly superior military strength while recalling the 1962 invasion of India by China. Also, occasionally the Chinese caution India in not so polite terms that it will be missing the boat to prosperity by staying out of its venture encompassing at least three continents—Asia, Africa and Europe.

It is puzzling that China tries to project a soft image of itself while talking OBOR/CPEC with India but reverts to its usual bullying self when talking of differences over boundary related issues. Could it be that China wants to attain two contradictory goals: Get India on board the OBOR boat to boost its image as the fast rising global superpower and also press hard claims on Indian territories?

India could be looking at it in a different way. If the Chinese succeed in sucking India into the OBOR project of which CPEC is an important component, China will still not give up its claims on Indian territories. The Chinese ruse is palpable.

It is apparent that China is uncomfortable with the thought that it cannot intimidate India by border incursions and Doklam like posturing. The Chinese unease increases when it sees its neighbours in South-east Asia responding favourably to Indian overtures. Quietly but surely India is working on its own version of OBOR by participating in a project to link South-east Asia with India by a network of roads, sea ports and also by increasing trade.

Playing host to 10 Asean leaders at the Republic Day function in New Delhi was not just good optics but also sent a message to Beijing that its hegemonic efforts in Asia can be upset by a resurgent India. What it all boils down to is simple: India will definitely like to have good relations with China, but it is not possible unless India finds China genuinely friendly and renounces its belligerence. India does have a constituency for good relations with China which is larger than the constituency for good relations with Pakistan. But it feels considerably constrained because of the frequent strident anti-India notes coming from Beijing.

China has been vigorously implementing its policy of encircling India with a ‘string’ of military bases and is buying influence in all of India’s neighbourhood, not just its ‘all weather friend’ Pakistan. Does anybody believe that China has pious intentions in doing so, despite President Xi regime’s ‘assurances’?  Moreover, any student of history will be loath to forget that India’s 1962 defeat was no more than China stabbing it in the back.  China has hardly been able to hide its expansionist and aggressive designs from the rest of the world, especially in its own neighbourhood.

India’s differences over CPEC are generally said to be about it passing through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). That is true. But the Chinese seem to be talking in two voices. China accepts that Jammu and Kashmir is a ‘disputed’ territory which should preclude China (a third party) from taking up any work there.

In its bid to revive its medieval grandeur, China lays claim over a vast Indian territory in the North-east. China protests—and threatens–India against taking up any infrastructure project there. How can China, then, overrule Indian objections to Chinese projects in the ‘disputed’ PoK?

Ambitious Bhasha dam project in PoK has been delayed because the ‘disputed’ nature of the territory prevents international agencies like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank from financing it. The US has backed out after holding out promises. China too has been rather lukewarm to the project. China cannot start funding projects in ‘disputed’ territories under Pakistani occupation while using the ‘disputed’ argument to oppose Indian projects in the North-east.

By including PoK in the CPEC, China is legitimizing a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir as part of Pakistan. Where is then the ‘dispute’ over the state between India and Pakistan? And on what basis will China then ask India not to take up any infrastructure project in the North-east, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh?

A question that has not been discussed in any detail is how India will benefit by participating in the CPEC? China will certainly aver that it will invest in India but on terms that favour it. After the initial euphoria over CPEC, many in Pakistan are now worrying about the ill effects it will have on their economy. Pakistan will be caught in a deep Chinese debt trap. The Chinese help does not come with liberal terms.

India’s participation in CPEC will also entail large scale Chinese presence in the country which may be questionable from the point of view of security. China is known to camouflage its spooks as civilians when deploying them in a foreign country. Even their ‘all weather friend’ has suffered from this scourge.

India’s relations with China are, of course, not comparable to ties with Pakistan which has sworn eternal enmity with Delhi. Any change in Pakistani attitude in the near term has to be ruled out because the strong Chinese support.

CPEC is meant to benefit China primarily and Pakistan in passing, not India. So much so India’s participation in CPEC cannot be foreseen as long as dark clouds continue to hover in the region.

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