By Wang Jiamei
While India recently issued an official statement saying it would not be part of the “One Belt and One Road” (B&R) initiative, it will not affect the trend toward cooperation in infrastructure development among its neighboring countries at all.
According to media reports, India was openly skeptical of China’s Belt and Road Forum hours ahead of the opening of the event, mainly due to concerns over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a key project of the B&R, and whether it might influence the disputed Kashmir region.
The B&R is a grand economic cooperation and development plan open to everyone, and is aimed at improving infrastructure in countries along the B&R route, thus benefiting the local people. China would never force any country to participate in the B&R if it was too skeptical and nervous to do so. It is regrettable but not a problem that India still maintains its strong opposition to the B&R, even though China has repeatedly said its position on the Kashmir dispute would not change because of the CPEC.
India also cited the potential debt burden as one of its other concerns, saying that, “Connectivity initiatives must follow the principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create an unsustainable debt burden for communities.”
It is strange that the onlooker is more anxious than the players. While India cares about its neighbors’ debt burden, the neighbors appear willing to take on more.
On Saturday, Pakistan and China inked new deals worth nearly $500 million, covering airport, port and highway construction. As regards the potential debt burden, Pakistan’s repayments will peak at around $5 billion in 2022, but this will be offset by transit fees charged in the CPEC, Reuters reported on Saturday, citing the government’s chief economist. Last week, Nepal officially signed a deal with China to join the B&R, and the country is also reportedly in talks with China to build a cross-border rail link that may cost up to $8 billion.
As such, given the active responses from countries along the route, there is no way for India to impede its neighboring countries from cooperating with China in infrastructure development.
China has formally invited India to join the B&R. If India doesn’t want to take a part on the stage, then it should just be a good member of the audience. The role is still available if India changes its mind, but it may only be a small role if it is left too late.
(The author is a reporter with the Global Times. [email protected])