New Delhi: China’s showpiece “One Belt One Road" (OBOR) infrastructure initiative got underway in Beijing on Sunday but a notable absentee was its southern neighbour India which late Saturday announced its decision not to attend the event.
This was not due to the lack of efforts by Beijing to get an Indian government participation in the event, but due to a feeling in New Delhi that Beijing was getting increasingly insensitive to Indian concerns.
With its refusal to attend the OBOR conference and allowing the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh last month—analysts say that India is taking a tougher line against China.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have concluded that the Chinese are not in a mood to do business with India, they are not in a mood to make any compromises, the Chinese are claiming the big role in the region, that of regional hegemon," said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.
“On the question of OBOR, India has said that there are issues of sovereignty involved," he said referring to one strand of the ambitious Chinese infrastructure project ie the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), that cuts through Gilgit and Baltistan areas of Kashmir which India claims are illegally held by Pakistan. “And therefore India’s refusal to participate," Mansingh said, adding that this indicates a toughening of India’s stance vis a vis China.
OBOR, first unveiled by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, aims to put billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids across Asia, Africa and Europe. OBOR is expected to burnish Beijing’s free trade credentials and offer Xi a chance to elaborate China’s global leadership ambitions as the US looks to promote its own “America first" policy. Leaders from 29 countries including Sri Lanka and Pakistan are attending the forum, which ends on Monday.
India’s objections vis a vis OBOR were outlined in a statement put out by the Indian foreign ministry late Saturday. Noting that India had received a formal invitation to participate in the six separate fora as part of the OBOR conference, the Indian statement said: “We are of firm belief that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality... Connectivity projects must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity."
“Guided by our principled position in the matter, we have been urging China to engage in a meaningful dialogue on its connectivity initiative, ‘One Belt, One Road’ which was later renamed as ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. We are awaiting a positive response from the Chinese side," the statement said.
“Regarding the so-called ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’, which is being projected as the flagship project of the BRI/OBOR, the international community is well aware of India’s position. No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity," it added.
India’s refusal to attend the Chinese-organized OBOR conference is just one instance in recent months where New Delhi seems to have adopted a “less tolerant" approach towards Beijing, said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.
Prior to this, India allowed a visit to Arunachal Pradesh—considered Southern Tibet by China and therefore claimed by Beijing —by then American Ambassador to India, Richard Verma, in October. The Modi government also allowed the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh in April—something that Beijing vehemently protested. Besides this, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee also met the Dalai Lama at an event hosted to honour Nobel laureates at Rashtrapati Bhavan in December—something that did not go down well with China.
New Delhi’s moves followed China blocking Indian attempts to bring Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group chief Maulana Masood Azhar into a list of proscribed terrorists last year. New Delhi was also upset with Beijing creating hurdles for India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, which controls global nuclear commerce —at least twice last year. And this despite appeals by India at the highest levels of government.
“In the past, we were seen as more reticent when China objected to something," said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal. “We were being cautious in hope China would take a more reasonable line," he said. “But now, clearly, there is no meeting of minds, which is why New Delhi seems to be taking a less tolerant approach to China."