NEW DELHI: On the eve of China’s biggest foreign policy manoeuvre in years, India on Saturday came out in open opposition against Beijing’s One Belt, One Road forum, reminding it that no country could accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.
India has strong reservations over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship project of the connectivity initiative that is expected to figure prominently in the two-day meet starting in Beijing on Sunday.
In a strongly-worded statement on the eve of the event, which will see participation of more than 60 countries, India escalated its opposition to OBOR, suggesting that the project is little more than a colonial enterprise, leaving debt and broken communities in its wake.
“We are of the firm belief that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognised international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality. Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities; balanced ecological and environmental protection and preservation standards; transparent assessment of project costs; and skill and technology transfer to help long term running and maintenance of the assets created by local communities.
Connectivity projects must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity+ .” Structural misalignments of OBOR have been detailed by observers and scholars.
Sri Lanka is a big example, where an unviable Hambantota port project has left Colombo reeling under $8 billion debt.
India’s stance to sour ties between Modi & Xi
Like Sri Lanka, where an unviable Hambantota port project has left Colombo reeling under an $8 billion debt, Pakistan may be headed in the same direction; Laos is trying to renegotiate a railway project, Myanmar has asked for its own renegotiation; a Belgrade-Budapest railway line to be built by China is under investigation by the EU.
Chinese infrastructure projects in foreign countries are typically executed by state-owned enterprises, while financing programmes, which initially appear attractive, sour quickly.
India’s criticism of the OBOR initiative comes even as the US, one of the last holdouts, confirmed its attendance at the forum+ .
The US team will be led by Matt Pottinger, a senior director in the White House. Japan, India’s another strategic partner, is sending Toshihiro Nikai, head of ruling LDP and former PM Yukio Hatoyama.
Confirming that India had received an invitation to participate+ in the 6 separate forums that China was organising as part of the Belt and Road Forum, the MEAsaid, “We have been urging China to engage in a meaningful dialogue. We are awaiting a positive response from the Chinese side.”
Officials said that even though India had repeatedly asked China for consultations on OBOR, there has been no response.
India’s statement comes as wake up call for Xi Jinping and his biggest foreign policy outreach, and puts paid to any prospect of bilateral ties improving during the rest of Modi’s tenure.
Xi has given this summit top billing, projecting himself as the world’s latest globalisation guru at a time when the West appears to be in retreat.