China: Eurasian & Belt Road Initiative

China: Eurasian & Belt Road Initiative

…CPEC alternatives spelt for JK

Shanghai Conference organization (SCO) a Eurasian grouping and Belt Road initiative (BRI) are two prime examples of China widening the regional and global net to trap more and more countries into Chinese economic sphere. The widening economic net has geopolitical implications, especially for erstwhile JK State across LoC divide. Alternatives are being spelt for CPEC. The developments are watched with keen interest in the state. How the events unfold in near and distant future remains a subject of intense speculations. There are reservations too, with some countries in Asia-Pacific region and India in South Asia suspecting China’s widening moves. Across the seas, US and its western allies maintain a careful watch, lest the global order prevalent over decades is challenged. Western allies in Asia-Pacific region—Japan, Australia have apprehensions. China though continues to advocate economic initiatives unequivocally without security implications for either the Asian states or to existent global order. 

BRI plans to net 65 nation states; the network encompasses road and rail connectivity, communication upgrading, energy pipelines and maritime links. SCO was founded at a summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the Presidents of Russia, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In 2005 Astana summit India, Iran and Pakistan were admitted as observers. Tashkent summit of 2010 lifted the moratorium on new membership, opening the way for expansion of the grouping. June 2017 witnessed India and Pakistan admitted as full members taking the tally to eight. Eight full members account for approximately half of the world’s population, a quarter of the world’s GDP, and about 80% of Eurasia’s landmass. The widening organization has four observer states — Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia–and six dialogue partners–Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey, and Sri Lanka. 

India though a full member is hardly seen to be enthusiastic. PM Modi never misses an opportunity to attend a mega event on global scene. Instead, the conference of heads of governments in Russian city of Sochi is being attended by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj. India’s expressed concern remains terrorism, where her views remain divergent from adversaries—Pakistan and China. In Sochi Sushma Swaraj’s dwelt widely on terrorism, though without mentioning Pakistan. In spite of chill in bilateral ties, she congratulated Pakistan on becoming a permanent member of the SCO. India otherwise continues to accuse Pakistan of fuelling terrorism, and holds a grudge against China for shielding Masood Azhar in UN councils. China cites technical grounds, India remains unconvinced. India has reservation on BRI in general and CPEC (China-Pakistan economic corridor) in particular. CPEC, India holds, raises questions on sovereignty. Erstwhile JK State across LoC is Indian territory remains often stated position of India. China maintains that CPEC is purely an economic venture, without political or diplomatic outfall.  

In spite of India being cool to BRI and with expressed reservation on CPEC, China continues to woo India, given its market potential. Of particular interest to JK State is Chinese readiness to consider   alternative routes through JK to address India’s concerns regarding CPEC. This was stated by Beijing’s envoy to India–Luo Zhaohui in an interaction with scholars of Chinese and South-East Asian Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The envoy reportedly said, “We can change the name of CPEC, create an alternative corridor through Jammu and Kashmir, Nathu La pass or Nepal to deal with India’s concerns.’’ He added that he was keen on accomplishing a bilateral friendship and trade treaty during his stint in India. On addressing each other’s concerns, the envoy noted Dalai Lama’s presence and activities being an issue for China, while CPEC and Masood Azhar were also issues that both sides need to be deal with. India however remains guarded, and widespread scepticism remains.

Luo Zhaohui’s JNU interaction came days after India attended the quadrilateral group meeting with Japan, US and Australia. Though he evaded questions on the meet, he did agree with a faculty member of the center that the quadrilateral was not a serious grouping as it could not produce a joint statement following the first meeting. Chinese envoy might have underplayed it, but the fact remains that the quadrilateral meet is a diplomatic ploy, a counterweight to Chinese prospective moves in Asia-Pacific region that includes explicitly stating South China Sea being Chinese monopoly. China though continues to drown geopolitical concerns in economic grainsizing. It was implicit in Luo Zhaohui emphasizing the economic deals with Trump administration to prove China being a reliable partner.  “President Trump sealed $250 billion worth of trade deals with China during his trip. Would that be possible if China was a threat,” he reportedly asked, arguing that China and India as growing economies must cooperate with each other. Luo Zhaohui’s economic emphasis raises several questions, with obvious implications for JK State. 

The question remains–would Luo Zhaohui’s economic emphasis address geopolitical concerns in the region, particularly vis-à-vis JK across LoC divide? With erstwhile JK State remaining disputed, would economic corridors on either side of the LoC, unlikely though given ground realities and stated positions, provide an impetus for the resolution of seven decades old conflict? Or, would economic compulsions override geopolitical concerns in the long run? These are some of the questions that would prompt finding an answer to across the divide in JK State. There are no easy answers though, given the divergent views of regional states and global power politics.    

 

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]