India stands its ground on China’s Belt and Road plan, to skip mega meet


APRIL 18, 2019

India will skip the second Belt and Road Forum being hosted by China next week to boost President Xi Jinping’s five-year-old flagship connectivity project, people familiar with developments said on Thursday.

The reasons behind the decision to decline the invitation for the second iteration of the forum are the same ones that drove a boycott of the first event in May 2017 – core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity and the uneven playing field created by the Chinese, the people said.

Chinese officials have said about 40 foreign government leaders and representatives of more than 100 countries have confirmed their participation in the forum, expected to be held in Beijing during April 26-27.

Among India’s neighbours, Pakistan has said Prime Minister Imran Khan will make a four-day visit to China from April 25 to attend the forum. Khan is set to deliver the keynote speech at the opening ceremony and join a leaders’ roundtable.

Khan’s role is hardly surprising given Pakistan’s traditionally close ties with China, though officials in New Delhi are keeping a close eye on the level of participation by India’s neighbours and other countries. Bhutan, for instance, won’t attend the event, the people said.

The inaugural event attracted 29 heads of state and government, and while the number for this year’s event is higher, the people quoted above pointed to misgivings among many countries about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the lower level of participation by nations such as Germany and the US.

“More and more people see the BRI as a form of economic imperialism. While some countries that were starved of funds had welcomed BRI in the past, they now see the pitfalls associated with it,” said a person, pointing to a Chinese company’s takeover of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port in 2017 after the island nation was unable to repay debts associated with its development.

For India, the biggest concern remains the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which New Delhi says affects sovereignty and territorial integrity as it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Indian officials have also pointed to the uneven playing field created by China to favour its firms in taking up projects under BRI. While Indian firms are capable of meeting accepted international standards, projects under BRI are tweaked in such a way that only Chinese firms can successfully bid for them, they said.

“India believes connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognised international norms, good governance, rule of law and transparency. Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that create unsustainable debt burden,” a second person said.

Since it was unveiled in 2013 by President Xi, BRI has expanded to cover a vast swath of territory from South America to the Arctic, and includes plans to build a vast network of highways, ports, power plants and other infrastructure.

China says BRI offers benefits for all countries but experts have warned of Chinese loans creating “debt traps”, and countries such as Myanmar, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Pakistan have either cancelled or renegotiated projects under the initiative.

Courtesy/Source: Hindustan Times