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General Studies 2 >> International Relations

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1. Context
China said it was willing to study a plan to connect Malaysia’s $10-billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) to other China-backed railway projects in Laos and Thailand, potentially expanding Beijing’s Belt and Road initiatives across Southeast Asia.
2. What is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), previously known as the One Belt One Road Initiative, a mammoth infrastructure project launched by China in 2013. China aims to recreate its medieval Silk Road. China wants to build infrastructure such as ports, bridges and rail lines in over 150 countries spanning Asia, Africa and Europe. While China claims it is solely an economic initiative, not many countries, including India, are willing to buy that argument. The countries opposing the project fear this could a China-centered sphere of influence and lead to "debt traps"
2.1. Routes of BRI
  • New Eurasian Land Bridge:

    • Connects Western China to Western Europe.
    • Passes through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Germany.
    • Key cities: Urumqi (China), Almaty (Kazakhstan), Moscow (Russia), and Duisburg (Germany).
  • China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor:

    • Connects Northern China to Eastern Russia.
    • Passes through Mongolia.
    • Key cities: Beijing (China), Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia), and Moscow (Russia).
  • China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor:

    • Connects Western China to Turkey and the Mediterranean.
    • Passes through Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran.
    • Key cities: Xi’an (China), Almaty (Kazakhstan), Tehran (Iran), and Istanbul (Turkey).
  • China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor:

    • Connects Southern China to Southeast Asian countries.
    • Passes through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar.
    • Key cities: Nanning (China), Hanoi (Vietnam), Bangkok (Thailand), and Yangon (Myanmar).
  • China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC):

    • Connects Western China to Pakistan.
    • Stretches from Kashgar (China) to Gwadar Port (Pakistan).
    • Key cities: Kashgar (China) and Gwadar (Pakistan).
  • Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM):

    • Connects Southern China to India via Myanmar and Bangladesh.
    • Key cities: Kunming (China), Mandalay (Myanmar), Dhaka (Bangladesh), and Kolkata (India)
3. What is India’s Stance on BRI?
India's stance on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is generally one of scepticism and opposition.
Several key factors and concerns shape India's position on the BRI:
  • One of India's primary concerns is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of the BRI. CPEC passes through the Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which India claims as part of its territory. India views this as a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity
  • India perceives the BRI as an attempt by China to expand its strategic influence and economic dominance across Asia and beyond. The development of infrastructure, ports, and other facilities in India's neighboring countries, such as Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Nepal, is viewed with suspicion, as it may enhance China's military and strategic footprint in the region
  • India is cautious about the economic implications of the BRI. There are concerns that participating countries may fall into a "debt trap" due to heavy borrowing from China for infrastructure projects, leading to long-term economic dependency on China. This could create economic instability in the region, which would indirectly affect India
  • India has criticized the BRI for its lack of transparency, inclusive consultation, and adherence to international norms and standards. There are apprehensions about the governance, environmental impact, and financial sustainability of BRI projects
  • India has chosen not to participate in the BRI. It did not attend the Belt and Road Forum, the key international summit organized by China to promote the initiative
  • India has been actively involved in promoting alternative regional connectivity and development initiatives. Notable examples include the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) in collaboration with Japan, and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) with Russia, Iran, and other countries to improve trade links between India, Central Asia, and Europe
  • India has been working to strengthen its bilateral and multilateral ties with neighboring countries and other regional players. This includes enhancing infrastructure and trade connectivity, providing development assistance, and engaging in diplomatic efforts to counterbalance China's influence
  • India has been deepening its strategic partnerships with countries like the United States, Japan, and Australia. These partnerships aim to ensure a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, often seen as a counter to China's growing assertiveness under the BRI framework
4.What are the Issues Concerned with the BRI?
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), while ambitious and far-reaching, has encountered several significant issues and criticisms. These concerns span across various dimensions, including economic, political, environmental, and social aspects.
Here are the key issues associated with the BRI:
  • Many participating countries have accumulated significant debt due to BRI projects. Critics argue that the loans provided by China are often on terms that are not sustainable for these countries, potentially leading to a "debt trap" where nations are unable to repay their loans, thus increasing their dependency on China.
  • Examples include Sri Lanka, where the inability to service debt led to China taking control of the strategic Hambantota Port on a 99-year lease
  • There are concerns about the economic feasibility of some BRI projects. Critics argue that many of these projects may not generate enough economic returns to justify the massive investments, leading to underutilized infrastructure and financial burdens on the host countries.
  • Some BRI projects, like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), pass through disputed territories, raising issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity. For example, CPEC runs through the Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which India claims as its own
  • The BRI is seen as a tool for China to expand its geopolitical influence. By building infrastructure and providing loans, China increases its strategic foothold in various regions, which can shift the balance of power and create dependencies that favour Chinese interests
For Prelims: Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
For Mains: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and its implications on India
Previous Year Questions
1.Belt and Road Initiative’ is sometimes mentioned in the news in the context of the affairs of (2016)

(a) African Union
(b) Brazil
(c) European Union
(d) China

Answer: (d)

1.The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is viewed as a cardinal subset of China’s larger ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative. Give a brief description of CPEC and enumerate the reasons why India has distanced itself from the same. (2018)

2. “China is using its economic relations and positive trade surplus as tools to develop potential military power status in Asia”. In the light of this statement, discuss its impact on India as her neighbour. (2017)

Source: Indianexpress

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