The Asian region’s rise is linked to peace, stability and cooperation between India and China. Elucidate

Published: December 9, 2019

Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is one of the biggest Infrastructure connectivity projects ever undertaken by a single country. From East Asia to Western Europe, BRI spans land and ocean trade networks intending to enhance physical linkages between countries to boost trade, tourism and reignite economic growth worldwide. The principal objectives of BRI for China are to acquire access to, and if possible gain control over, key strategic locations around the world and secure the supply of resources which China itself lacks. 

Beijing insists that the initiative is geared towards fueling economic growth by enhancing connectivity between member states leading to win-win scenarios for China and member countries, but there are plenty of examples from Sri Lanka to Malaysia to Myanmar that point to the contrary. 

In Sri Lanka, for example, a deal made by the former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in 2017 leased the strategically located Hambantota port to Beijing for 99 years citing Sri Lanka’s inability to repay the loan to build the port project. The deal is a classic example of ‘Chinese debt-trap diplomacy’ where hugely expensive Infrastructure is built for countries that have no need for it, using mostly Chinese resources and labour and at interest rates which are significantly higher than the global benchmarks. As a result these massive debt burdens that the host country is unable to service are usually compensated with total control over the project and the land which is allotted as collateral.

However, pushback against this Chinese Initiative has begun…the new government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka has announced that it wants to reverse the deal made by former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in 2017 as the port is located on a vital connection of the east-west shipping route and the strategic advantages it offers due to its location at the tip of the Northern Indian Ocean.

Sri Lanka is not alone, it’s accompanied by countries like Myanmar which scaled back a deep-sea port project which was to be funded by China and under the Belt and Road Initiative. In South-East Asia, Malaysia too cancelled Chinese oil pipeline projects and scaled by Rail projects being funded by China. 

Another Chinese led initiative, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is also facing roubles as India, a major stakeholder in the agreement has withdrawn and Japan has announced that it will refuse to join the pact if India doesn’t join.

The above setbacks don’t necessarily mean the failure of the Belt and Road Initiative. However, it does indicate that it has become more challenging for China to exert its power beyond its shores using its purse.

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