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China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: How India lost an opportunity

May 20, 2017, 12:17 AM IST Economic Times in ET Commentary | India | ET


By Pinaki Bhattacharya

In the aftermath of what can be called the ‘Dai Bingguo Formula’, named after the Chinese special representative for the Joint Working Group on the India-China boundary dispute, floated in March this year, it was argued that New Delhi not concurring with a Chinese request to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would be a gigantic folly. It can now clearly be said China has snatched away Indian primacy in the region.

It all happened over two days this week as China hosted the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. Over May 14 and 15, even as India sought and failed to reconcile its desire for material largesse that can accrue from the Chinese Belt Road Initiative (BRI) and its desire to maintain its strategic autonomy in relation with the US, 110 countries signed on to the Beijing Plan to provide ‘cooperative capitalism’ to developing and underdeveloped nations.

What India now has to focus on is to claw back through an activist oceanic maritime policy.

Odd one out
The corridor would run from Xinjiang in China’s south-west where the minority Uyghur community lives. A section of them are separatists. So, the ’s route would be through areas that are contentious, rights over which are contested by communities, none of which would align their ‘ideology’ with China’s or Pakistan’s — or even India’s via Kashmir. The part of Kashmir through which the CPEC will run falls under Pakistan-Administered Kashmir/Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir since the 1948 incursion of Pakistani regular and irregular troops. They were beaten back by Indian forces, but after giving up some territory to Pakistan.

If one plots the corridor along this path, one will see it actually runs parallel to the Line of Control (LoC) between India and China, as clearly differentiated from any international boundary. So, if India joined up in the CPEC project, in geopolitical terms, Pakistan would have had to face aquandary — and India gained access to Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. In other words, it would have seemed that the LoC had melted away. Instead of an everyday exchange of fire across the LoC between India and Pakistan, we could have enjoyed quiescence in the context of one of the most incendiary of all international disputes.

But, alas, that has not happened. The current managers of India’s security policy thought that a clear alignment with China, Russia and possibly Iran would cause them to lose traction in the West (read: the US). “Let’s wait for the Modi-Putin meeting,” V Siddhartha of the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru, had stated. Now, Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi can meet only on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit.

Being held in Kazakhstan, the Russian president will have a lot on his plate at the SCO. But now Putin has to live up to the promise of making India and Pakistan full voting members. So, it is going to be fun watching how a Russo-centric organisation switches gears


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