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What’s behind Moscow’s new advisory to New Delhi over Beijing’s OBOR?

The writer is an advocate practising in the Supreme Court. The views expressed here are personal.
Published : Dec 22, 2017, 1:06 am IST
Updated : Dec 22, 2017, 5:26 am IST

The South China Sea is not Chinese, there are several claimant littoral maritime states.

Why is China so keen to get India aboard on a project which an uncomfortable New Delhi is visibly wary of joining?
 Why is China so keen to get India aboard on a project which an uncomfortable New Delhi is visibly wary of joining?

Are these the signs of changing times, of an impending “new world order”? Around 55 years ago, during October-November 1962, both Communist Nikita Khrushchev and Capitalist John F. Kennedy — bitter Cold War rivals — had supported Jawaharlal Nehru as he resisted the Chinese attack that was intended to “teach” the Indian PM a “lesson”. Then, in December 1971, then Indian PM Indira Gandhi’s strategic military/war ally Communist Moscow, in the face of the games being played by the Richard Nixon-Henry Kissinger duo, again opposed and compelled Communist Beijing’s Comrade Mao to steer clear of conflict between India and Pakistan, playing a seminal role in paving the way for India’s unprecedented historic military victory and the birth of Bangladesh. Today, in December 2017, however, the same Moscow (though no longer Communist) appears in a position to play proxy, on behalf of its former Communist foe Beijing, to advise former strategic security partner New Delhi to reconsider its professed stand on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “One-Belt-One-Road”.

Ironic? No, and yes. No, because times change. Yes, as friends and foes in the international arena too change depending on the perception of nation states’ self-interest or possible trampling on, or loss of, sovereignty thereof.

[China and India, incidentally, will hold their next round of border talks in New Delhi on Friday, when state councillor Yang Jiechi, its special representative, travels to the Indian capital — the first high-level engagement between the two countries after the Doklam standoff some months ago.]

What’s so serious about OBOR? Why is China so keen to get India aboard on a project which an uncomfortable New Delhi is visibly wary of joining? Is it due to its unaddressed and unjustifiably ignored “sovereignty violation” by China? Why doesn’t China realise, or try to understand, that if India goes back on its publicly professed stand on the breach of New Delhi’s sovereignty by China, and decides to join OBOR at the behest of same Beijing (which violated India’s sovereignty) or under diplomatic pressure from Moscow, the credibility and political stability of India’s ruling party will hit severe turbulence, which could also result in marking a potential beginning of the end of the incumbent Prime Minister’s political future? (Remember! China-lover Nehru lost to China? The legacy is not lost yet!) Is China really trying to do that? Taking advantage of the possible hazards of India’s democratic structure, which somehow still does not (and possibly cannot) inspire a mutually-acceptable and desired level of trust, faith, confidence and understanding? Is it because of India’s occasional show of independent foreign and domestic policies in recent times, (regardless of the foreign push or the domestic pull factor), rarely seen in the last three decades of coalition politics at the federal seat of power?

Seen in juxtaposition, could China be coaxed to join an India-initiated OBOR passing through Taiwan, the South China Sea, Senkaku Island, and across three geographical areas — Xinjiang, Xizang (Tibet) and landlocked Mongolia? What if the alleged Xinjiang-based Islamic terrorist groups are encouraged to assault PLA soldiers, innocent citizens are massacred in mainland China and the collective cacophony of Muslim-Xinjiang and Buddhist-Xizang (Tibet) repeatedly declare freedom from Chinese bondage, encouraged by India, Japan, Kazakhstan and Russia? All this makes China hyper-sensitive! What if these issues remain unaddressed by New Delhi despite repeated diplomatic persuasion from Beijing? The South China Sea is not Chinese, there are several claimant littoral maritime states. Senkaku physically belongs to Japan, despite the Chinese claims and firing. Mongolia is a sovereign (landlocked) state, though China sees it as its monopoly-backyard and hates to accept any kind of bilateral relations, other than with Beijing, initiated by Ulan Batur? Why did Beijing clandestinely operate (in the early 1950s) to build a road cutting through India’s Jammu and Kashmir to connect Xinjiang?

These above-mentioned points will nevertheless not cut any ice. Chinese obstinacy reaches the levels of absurdity. One can only refer to their official documents to unravel the gameplan. The Beijing document of June 20, 2017, “Vision for Maritime Cooperation under Belt and Road Initiative”, clearly states that China “will link CPEC to corridor involving India”. How weird? Is it a “compulsion of no-option”? Or a “compulsory choice” for India to succumb under duress or concede to a nudge as if it is not a sovereign state. India’s sovereignty stands trampled in J&K; and now it has to say “yes” to a Chinese project! Mortgaging its sovereign rights; without its right to say yes or no! Why? Because Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar are joining it, so India too must join?

The Chinese document brazenly says: “Ocean cooperation will focus on building the China-Indian Ocean-Africa-Mediterranean Sea Blue Economic Passage, by linking the China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor, running westward from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean, and connecting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC). A clear unilateral inclusion of India in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI project, in which falls BCIM-EC)! No discussion. No consent. No agreement. Only a diktat from the Forbidden City. An unprecedented “my way or the highway” type of global diplomacy initiated by “New World Order” of Beijing! One thing, nevertheless, is clear. China’s overt stand may be to belittle India in every sphere, but the inherent, undeniable strength of the Indian position is too stark to be ignored. Hence, the eagerness to have India on board. Thus, of the 223 states (including some semi-independent regions and protectorates) in the world, OBOR’s primary target is about 69 countries along the vast Eurasian plains stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. The missing link of the Indian Ocean happens to be South Asia’s India.

The reality is that India (despite all failures and faultlines) is an economy of $2.043 trillion (standing ninth, above Russia’s GDP of $2.030 trillion). Also, in Gross Domestic Product-Purchasing Power Parity (GDP-PPP), India, with a figure of 7,347, stands third, after China (17,961) and the United States (17,348). With Beijing’s burgeoning economy of $10.431 trillion, the strength of the Beijing-New Delhi-Moscow troika is understandably formidable. Theoretically, it is very impressive and desirable. But in reality, it can only be a partnership between equals and mutually-respectable sovereign nations. Not to be seen or confused as diplomacy between a sovereign nation and a client state! Else, one will be constrained to believe what present US President Donald Trump had written in 2015: “Two sets of China. The good one provides services to its millions, and the bad China is hidden from outsiders...”

India is surely an outsider. Even today, over 99 per cent of Indians are likely to be indifferent to reading about or fathoming the “bad China” or the “difficult Chinese”. Mr Trump’s words are spot-on: “When dealing with China, we need to stand up to them and remind them that it’s bad business to take (unethical and unscrupulous) advantage of your best customer”. Can “sovereign” India, one of the best customers of Chinese goods, stand up to be counted? India provides a one-way annual profit of $55 billion to China. Imagine that!

Tags: indira gandhi, obor, xi jinping