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B&R making advances in South Asia

B&RSince China proposed the Belt and Road project in 2013, there has been heated discussion outside China, especially in South Asian countries adjacent to China. What are the considerations and concerns of South Asian countries toward this initiative? How can China address their concerns and boost cooperation? At the conference themed “‘Belt and Road’ Initiative and South Asia: Building Trust and Cooperation” hosted by China West Normal University and the Charhar Institute in Nanchong, Sichuan Province last week, experts from China and South Asia shared their thoughts on these issues.
Liu Zongyi, senior fellow of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies
South Asia becoming a part of Belt and Road will signal the future of an Asian century. China would like to synergize Belt and Road with regional cooperation initiatives and domestic development plans, such as the New Silk Road Project and Indo-Pacific economic corridor of the US or the Mekong-Ganga cooperative initiative, to form a regional economic cooperation network that extends from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean, from Central Asia to South Asia.
India’s participation is very important to the Belt and Road initiative. It’s not only because of India’s population, labor resource and market size, but also India’s political influence on countries in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. India’s attitude toward Belt and Road will affect these countries’ decisions on whether to participate in the initiative, and China requires India’s cooperation on anti-terrorism, regional stability and security in building the Belt and Road.
India’s attitude toward the initiative is clear: supporting some part of the Belt and Road, opposing and hedging the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Maritime Silk Route, and delaying and replacing the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor.
Three years have passed since the Belt and Road was formally proposed. It has improved the infrastructure construction and economic development in South Asia, and has stimulated South Asian regional connectivity.
I just came back from New Delhi, and I found the India government’s stance on the initiative has changed slightly. India will hold the third BCIM working group meeting soon, which has been postponed for more than three years, and some Indian experts said they would like to see some concrete progresses and put forward some concrete projects.
Hiranya Lal Shrestha, professor of Tribhuvan University of Nepal and former Nepali ambassador to Russia
There are some challenges for an uninterrupted implementation of the Belt and Road initiative. First, India’s tendency to impose guided political system in countries like Bhutan and Nepal and its attempt to micro-manage their affairs are seen as the biggest hurdle in the implementation of the Belt and Road across China and South Asia. The two largest countries of South Asia, India and Pakistan, live in a state of conflict and distrust. India objects to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through the part of Kashmir under Pakistan’s control.
India has made controversial moves like allowing Dalai Lama to travel to disputed areas with China and giving a platform to him in the guise of religious functions. Such activities are hindrances to the implementation of the Belt and Road initiative.
Nonetheless, understanding and cooperation are also deepening between China and India in some areas. From a perpetual state of conflict, they appear to have entered the phase of conflict avoidance and cooperation engagement. There is a possibility that three sets of trilateral and multilateral cooperation will emerge in the future to increase cooperation between China and South Asia in the spirit of Belt and Road – the China-Nepal-India trilateral cooperation, the China-Nepal-Pakistan trilateral cooperation, and a sub-regional cooperation among Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Tibet of China.
Shenali Waduge, SPRYN Logistics (Pvt) Ltd, Sri Lanka
We must keep in mind that the Indian Ocean does not belong to one country. It is shared by all. The Indian Ocean connects Africa, the Middle East, East Asia and Australia with Europe and the Americas. The Indian Ocean provides the shortest economical oceanic route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The superpowers in the region need to cooperate to achieve development goals. Under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), South Asia has not achieved development in the 30 years since it was implemented China’s Belt and Road, therefore, provides South Asia with a great opportunity to raise their countries to a level that they have failed to do with SAARC. South Asian nations look to China to stimulate their development, which no one should regard as a threat.
Rukmani Gupta, an Indian defense & security analyst
The Belt and Road initiative has the potential to fill the infrastructure deficit in South Asia. But for India, it needs to examine the two issues — whether infrastructure will invariably lead to economic growth and whether economic growth will result in stability. There is also a need for greater clarity on the nature of the Chinese investment. We heard repeatedly that China is providing public goods, but Belt and Road is an investment from which China seeks returns.
So what is the rate of the return China wants from its investment, and what are the rules for investment in other countries? Does it mean that there is going to be a sort of special economic zones only for Chinese companies because they will enjoy preferential rates? Does it mean Indian companies will be left out?
India can engage with Belt and Road selectively, as a long-term project, it can wait to get on board once Chinese expectations of it become clearer.
(Global Times)

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