President Xi Jinping of China is scheduled to visit India sometime in September and the agenda being spoken loudly has been the Silk Route initiative which has become the pet project of Xi.
China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency unveiled a feature entitled “New Silk Road, New Dreams”. The map of the proposed silk route shows how ambitious China is in pushing forward its influence around the world. The term silk route itself a term from the age when China was known as the middle kingdom, clearly shows Chinese ambitions to reclaim its lost glory. The map obviously has no link with the US which also tells another story.
India features in this on the map as part of what’s being called the “maritime silk route”. Apart from this the new route being proposed is the BMIC corridor which links Bangladesh, Myanmar, India and China linking China’s Yunnan province to the Bay of Bengal. China has been pushing this in its official meetings with India.
Gao Zhenting, councillor, department of international economic affairs says “From historical point of view India is the converging point of Maritime Silk road (MSR) and the ancient Silk Road on land. For more than 2,000 years India had very good exchanges with China through the passage of the South Silk Road, So in China we have a belief that China and India both placed the trail of silk roads and MSR and we both have benefited from the roads”
Any land route or the maritime route that China proposes to India while being attractive and appealing offers no substantial benefits to India. The routes proposed will provide Chinese hinterland that’s away from the sea an easier access to the seas or the western markets depending on what route one talks about. The maritime and the land routes around South Asia will not only provide China access to large markets, but will also serve to provide energy security and hedge against any choking of the seas that harms Chinese trade and energy flows.
If one sees the proposed maritime silk route, it will bear a resemblance to the String of Pearls that China laid around India. The String of Pearls is a string of commercial and possible military facilities set up by China where it has made ports around India in order to hedge against any India or possible US attempts to choke the maritime choke points in Asia. China has never officially used or acknowledged the String of Pearls but the term did give rise to suspicions in India for obvious reasons.
China seems to be repackaging the String of Pearls in its new Maritime Silk Route trying to get a wider acceptance including India.
The Chinese asking India to join the BMIC makes no sense for India. China is only looking to enhance its influence across the region and world. The region with many small and poor nations find the prospect very attractive but for India, it would just end up aiding the enemy enhance its role in the region. China’s intention of providing economic benefits to all in the region may just be a sweetener for its possible ulterior strategic goals. China will most definitely use its influence in the future to further its claims, or get its way during an international crisis that involves itself by coercing those along the route. One of the things China will most certainly do is to push its own currency the RMB for trade to undermine the dollar.
India should follow its own interests and not jump onto the Chinese bandwagon or get sucked by its hype. India should take urgent steps to develop its neighborhood for its own good. Indian investments on its own in Myanmar and Bangladesh will not only help these countries but also help our North East which remains under-developed. India should build the port in Sittwe in Myanmar and build roads into the North East from there. India has lagged behind China in the hydrocarbon race in Myanmar but the port and road project and then a pipeline from Myanmar could win India its influence back in that country. Similarly roads, rail and port in Bangladesh will serve a similar purpose. India should probably propose a “Bay of Bengal Initiative” linking up Myanmar, Bangladesh and India with Rail, Roads, Ports and pipelines to provide energy security and provide trade opportunities. India should offer its own vast domestic markets to these countries which will benefit these countries which will quite contrast China’s silk route which in all probability help China more than any of the countries in the region.
India will risk playing second fiddle to China always & almost confined and end up playing a subservient role to China’s interests.
Last but importantly, the strategic implication for opening up to China cannot be ignored. Any Chinese initiative will touch India’s north east. China’s role in fermenting trouble in north east is well known. China will exploit any opening it sees against India to harm us.