NEW DELHI • China invited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and six Cabinet colleagues to its Belt and Road summit this month, even offering to rename a flagship Pakistani project running through disputed territory to persuade them to attend, a top official in Mr Modi's ruling group and diplomats said.
New Delhi, however, rebuffed Beijing's diplomatic push, incensed that a key project in its massive initiative to open land and sea corridors linking China with the rest of Asia and beyond, runs through Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.
The failure of China's efforts to bring India on board, details of which have not been previously reported, shows the depths to which relations between the two countries have fallen over territorial disputes and Beijing's support of Pakistan.
India's snub to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was the strongest move yet by Mr Modi to stand up to China. But it risks leaving India isolated at a time when it may no longer be able to count on the United States to back it as a counterweight to China's growing influence in Asia, said Chinese commentators and some Indian experts.
Representatives of 60 countries, including the US and Japan, travelled to Beijing for the May 14-15 summit on President Xi Jinping's signature project.
Mr Ram Madhav, an influential leader of Mr Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party involved in shaping foreign policy, said India could not sign up so long as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor - a large part of the BRI - ran through parts of Pakistan-administered Kashmir that India considers its own territory. "No country compromises with its sovereignty for the sake of trade and commerce interests," Mr Madhav said.
India, due to the size and pace of expansion of its economy, could potentially be the biggest recipient of Chinese investment from the plan to spur trade by building infrastructure linking Asia with Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to a Credit Suisse report released before the summit.
Chinese investments in India could be anything from US$84 billion (S$116 billion) to US$126 billion between this year and 2021, far higher than investments in Russia, Indonesia and Pakistan, countries that have signed off on the initiative, it said.
China has not offered any specific projects to India, but many existing schemes, such as a Bangladesh- China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor that has been planned for years, have now been wrapped into the BRI.
China is also conducting feasibility studies for high-speed rail networks linking Delhi with Chennai in southern India that would eventually connect to the modern-day Silk Road it is seeking to create. But if India continues to hold back from joining China's regional connectivity plans, the commercial viability of those plans will be called into question, analysts say.
China has held talks with Nepal to build an US$8 billion railway line from Tibet to Kathmandu, but it ultimately wants the network to reach the Indian border to allow goods to reach the huge Indian market.
India has other worries over China's growing presence in the region, fearing strategic encirclement by a "string of pearls" around the India Ocean and on land as China builds ports, railways and power stations in country such as Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Mr Ashok Kantha, India's ambassador to China until last year, said India had repeatedly conveyed its concerns to China, especially about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the need to have open discussions about it.