India uneasy over China's Belt and Road project

Delhi's main objection is that key part of plan runs through disputed Kashmir

A vehicle passes through walls of snow at Zojila pass, 108km east of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir.
A vehicle passes through walls of snow at Zojila pass, 108km east of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir. PHOTO: EPA

NEW DELHI • India is likely to be represented by local embassy staff or academics this weekend at a major gathering of leaders and ministers on China's Silk Road initiative, reflecting deep unease in New Delhi over the far-reaching project.

India's main objection to China's plan to build ports, railways and power links across Asia and on to Europe is that the US$57 billion (S$80 billion) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a key part of the plan, runs through disputed Kashmir.

The broader worry for India is that the Belt and Road initiative, involving hundreds of billions of dollars over the coming decades, will cement China's dominance over Asia, including India's neighbourhood.

From tomorrow, leaders of 29 countries, plus senior delegates from other nations, will gather in Beijing for a two-day summit to map out a project seen as broad on ambition but short on specifics.

Even Vietnam, which has had rocky ties with China, will be represented by its president, while Japan, driving its own infrastructure push across Asia, is sending a deputy trade minister and the secretary-general of the ruling party.

India, meanwhile, is expected to send representatives from its embassy in Beijing, two Indian officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that, as far as he knew, Indian academics would be participating in"relevant activities" at the Belt and Road Forum. He gave no other details and offered no further comment.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay said no decision had been taken on whether an Indian government delegation would attend the meeting. "The matter is under consideration," he said, a position the government has maintained since March when China extended an invitation. Since then, it has stepped up efforts to get India to attend.

Mr Baglay said India supported connectivity across the region, but there was a problem with the Pakistan end of One Belt, One Road (Obor) - a term widely used to describe the project.

He added: "As far as Obor is concerned, you know that our position is that since the so-called CPEC forms a part of Obor, that is where our difficulty is. It passes or proposes to pass through what is sovereign Indian territory and we have made our views in this regard very, very clear to the Chinese side."

For India - which is Asia's third-largest economy behind China and Japan, and sits near one of the world's busiest shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean - to not be part of the continentwide project presents a headache for China and India.

China's Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui told an Indian military think-tank in New Delhi last week that the Belt and Road Initiative was good for both countries and fitted into India's Look East policy of strengthening ties with South-east and North-east Asia.

He also said that while India had reservations about the China-Pakistan corridor, Beijing had no wish to get involved in territorial disputes between India and Pakistan, according to remarks released by the Chinese Embassy. 


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'India uneasy over China's Belt and Road project'. Subscribe