OBOR Summit 2017: Meaning, Agenda, Outcome and India’s Stance

In May 2017, China organized a two days grand summit (Belt and Road Forum) to show off its plans to build a great network of trade routes under its One Belt-One Road (OBOR) umbrella. The OBOR is part of its so called “Silk Road Diplomacy”.

Meaning of OBOR and Silk Road Diplomacy

By Silk Road, we mean the ancient trade and cultural routes between China and Central / South Asia, Europe and Middle East. These routes were created during reign of Han dynasty of China between 200BC to 200AD. Revival of old routes has been one of the central pillars of China’s foreign policy in recent years. The OBOR is basically a simple catchphrase for Silk Road Diplomacy only. Here, One Belt means the Silk Road Economic belt, a network of land corridors to be developed by China under its “Go West policy”. CPEC is also a part of this belt and various projects under it will connect China with Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

One Road refers to the 21st century Maritime Silk Road, which would connect China’s coastline with Southeast Asia, Gulf and Eastern coast of Africa. This includes building maritime infrastructure throughout the Indo-pacific in the form of ports, special economic zones etc. China is funding these on loans and in case the host country is unable to sustain them, the former is also land grabbing (Hambantota is an example, which we would discuss later).

Objectives of OBOR

As of now, the stated objectives of Silk Road Diplomacy and OBOR are to enhance economic and strategic cooperation of China with Central, South-East and South Asia. Other reasons include – to promote stability on its western border; to secure overseas markets for Chinese exports; secure raw materials; counter the efforts of western powers such as US in Asia Pacific; and display its might in Indian Ocean. At the same time, some kind of colonization or semi-colonization has started to appear in China’s strategy since its Hambantota deal with Sri Lanka {this implies China acquiring equity and then controlling stakes in these projects, getting a permanent footprint in several small countries}. The Hambantota is now leased to China for 99 years and itsa bad news for Pakistan because same fate may be shared by CPEC in coming years / decades.

The OBOR includes around six major routes and an expected expenditure of $1 trillion.

The 2017 OBOR summit

More than 60 countries including 30 heads of state attended the OBOR summit held recently. During this summit, around 68 countries and international organizations signed belt and road agreements with China. India for obvious reasons boycotted the summit. The summit identified and agreed on 270 deliverable goals of Belt and Road Initiative and a joint communiqué by 30 heads of state was released with promise to  implement plans for trade and infrastructure development. However, it did not result in any kind of institutional framework for implementing the planned projects. The next edition of BRF will be held in 2019. In this summit, India’s neighbors viz. Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Afghanistan signed 20 infrastructure deals and sought China’s financial help for advancing infrastructure, power, banking and finance sectors.

India’s Stance on OBOR

India is the only country in South Asia which has not taken interest in OBOR or other such plans of China for obvious reasons. First is the sovereignty question as CPEC is going thru the areas which we claim as our own. Second is that China has always hidden its military plans under the cover of economic projects and India has been always vary of its string of pearls. Third, China’s plans though projected as projects for development of small countries yet smell colonialism. For example, it lends for infrastructure projects at higher rates and if the countries are unable to repay or sustain the projects, China would take over these projects, thus creating troubles for sovereignty of small countries.

How do we see India’s decision?

India’s decision to refuse to participate in OBOR or such projects is bold and pragmatic foreign policy move. Apart from the reasons mentioned above, China has blocked everything for which India makes lobby at international fora, be it entry to NSG or permanent membership or UNSC reforms or UN sanctions against some Pakistan bred terrorists. In fact, we have little incentives to go with China. The Doklam standoff is yet another example of China’s bullish behavior in the reason and thus we support what Indian government’s stand is.