India Will Join China's Belt And Road Initiative. Here's Why

Published: June 11, 2018 13:56 IST
The world order is changing rapidly, radically and right in front of our eyes. The West, led by the United States of America, is declining. The 'Rest', led by China, India and Russia, is rising.

If any proof of this were needed, it was startlingly provided in the images and news emanating on Sunday from two near-simultaneous summits, one in Canada and the other in China. The G7 Summit in Quebec ended in utter disarray, as was evident in the photograph flashed across the world by the social media - a grumpy Donald Trump, stared down by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with other leaders looking on helplessly. The US President's 'America First' demands sabotaged unanimity at the summit of leaders of the richest nations in the West, Japan being its only Asian member. Trump even publicly insulted his host Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister. 
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to US President Donald Trump at the G7 summit in Quebec

In compelling contrast was the 18th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) held in Qingdao, under the wise and visionary leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Many features made it a beacon of hope for the future of Asia, Eurasia and the world. The prospects of peace, development, common security and shared prosperity in our part of the world are becoming brighter with the growing spirit of regional cooperation. With India and Pakistan participating in the SCO summit as full members for the first time, the eight-nation SCO has become the largest multilateral regional body in the world in terms of geographical coverage and population.
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PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Qingdao

The dissimilarity between Trump's messed-up leadership of G7 and Xi Jinping's self-assured stewardship of SCO was especially evident in the five mega themes of peace and cooperation for a new world order, which the host at Qingdao presented in his plenary speech. 

1) Xi made an emphatic pitch "to reject the Cold War mentality and confrontation between blocks and oppose the practices of seeking absolute security of oneself at the expense of the security of other countries, so as to achieve security of all." Most hearteningly, he made a remark that is bound to appeal to all small, weak and vulnerable countries around the world - "We should enhance mutual understanding by putting ourselves in others' positions and boost harmony and unity by seeking common ground and setting aside differences." (Italics mine) He called for respecting "each other's choice of development paths and accommodate each other's core interests and major concerns." 

This is not the language we have ever heard from American presidents or leaders from other hegemonistic nations. Of course, the world expects China to walk its talk. It should put itself in the shoes of its smaller neighbours, understand their concerns and resolve the South China Sea issue in accordance with international law.

2) Nor has any American president said what Xi did about the need for a new international order. "While hegemony and power politics still persist in this world, the growing call for a more just and equitable international order must be heeded. Greater democracy in international relations has become an unstoppable trend of the times. We should embrace extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits in global governance...and contribute our share to resolving hotspot issues. We should reform and improve the global governance system, and work with all other countries to build a community with a shared future for mankind."

The concept of 'Building a Community of Shared Future for Mankind' is associated with the "Xi Jinping Thought' in China. Beijing is now increasingly introducing it on multilateral and global fora.

3) Xi's call for a new paradigm of ecology-protecting development is sure to be welcomed by the global community. He said, "We should uphold innovative, coordinated, green, open and inclusive development, achieve coordinated social and economic progress of various countries and resolve issues caused by unbalanced development. We should bridge the gap in development and promote shared prosperity."

4) While rejecting "self-centered, short-sighted and closed-door policies", he called for upholding "WTO rules and support the multilateral trading system so as to build an open world economy." India is surely on the same page as China on this point because Trump's protectionist push is also threatening our economy.

5) The Chinese President is different from many other global leaders because of his strong emphasis on civilizational dialogue as a part of our efforts to create a new world order. He said, "While we keep hearing such rhetoric as the clash of civilisations or the superiority of one civilization over another, it is the diversity of civilisations that sustains human progress. Indeed, mutual learning between different cultures is a shared aspiration of all peoples."

Thus, if Trump is talking about "America First", Xi's language is "Mankind First". To drive home his conviction, Xi used the words of Mencius, a widely admired Chinese philosopher, in praise of ancient China's most famous sage. "When Confucius looks down from the peak of the Dongshan Mountain, the local Kingdom of Lu comes into view; when he looks down from the peak of Mount Tai, the whole land comes into view." The message is loud and clear to the leaders of all the countries in the world, China included - they should not look only at the interests of their "local kingdoms"; rather, they should rise above their own small mountains to climb a higher summit from where they can see the entire world as their common home.

These are not mere nice-sounding words, which cynical commentators are wont to dismiss as having no real meaning in the world of realpolitik and diplomacy. Just look what China's recent peace-promoting efforts have achieved both within the SCO framework and without. 

Peace in Asia is unthinkable without ending war and enmity in two hotspots - the Korean peninsula and Afghanistan. Xi's private and not-so-private diplomatic efforts have played a decisive role in breaking the deadlock about de-nuclearisation of North Korea. He has even persuaded a mercurial Trump to have direct talks with Kim Jong Un. (One hopes and prays for the success of the Trump-Kim dialogue in Singapore.) The hostility between North and South Koreas is ending, and one can even visualise the possibility of a Korean reunification in the future.

SCO as such was not involved in peace-building in the Korean peninsula. However, it is already playing a direct and proactive role for peace, reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan. The Qingdao Declaration has rightly has affirmed that "establishing peace and stability in Afghanistan and an economic restoration will promote the security and sustainable development of the region as a whole." Most importantly, it has emphasised "that there is no alternative to settling the situation in Afghanistan beyond political dialogue and an inclusive peace process by the Afghan people themselves and under their guidance, and call for boosting cooperation under a central coordinating role of the UN for ensuring stability and development of the country."

Here again, we see the contrast between the West and the East. If Trump, in the imperial style of his predecessors, is Benton undermining the supremacy of the UN, the SCO has called for "a central coordinating role of the UN" for peace and nation-building in Afghanistan.

For us in India, Qingdao has brought promising bilateral and multilateral benefits. When Modi and Xi met on the sidelines of the summit, it was their 14th meeting in the past four years. It was also the second time the two leaders were meeting within a span of six weeks. The important consensus reached at their informal summit in Wuhan in April was further consolidated in Qingdao. They are also set to meet again twice before the end of 2018 - for the BRICS summit in South Africa and the G20 summit in Argentina. These high-level conversations have certainly contributed to reducing the trust deficit between India and China and opening the avenues for comprehensive cooperation. The war clouds produced by the Doklam crisis a year ago have disappeared. Both Modi and Xi and also their diplomatic teams deserve our appreciation for this achievement.

In good diplomacy, when one door closes, concerted efforts succeed in opening new doors. Thus, SAARC may be in limbo because of the continued hostility between India and Pakistan, but China and Russia have together succeeded in something unthinkable in the past: as the founding members of SCO, they have brought the two South Asian neighbours into the body. Now that New Delhi and Islamabad have become its full members, this naturally places an obligation on, and also provides a very useful opportunity for, them to resolve their differences and normalise their relations in the spirit of the SCO agenda.

My prediction: SCO will pave the way for India to join the Belt and Road Initiative

The Indian media's coverage of the SCO summit has predictably focused on India not endorsing the China-promoted Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the summit declaration, even though all other seven members did so. However, even here, SCO is quietly incubating a major breakthrough, which will surely lead to India joining the BRI eventually. My prediction rests on four pillars. First, in his speech in Qingdao, Modi made a revealing commitment: "We have again reached a stage where physical and digital connectivity is changing the definition of geography. Therefore, connectivity with our neighbourhood and in the SCO region is our priority."

Now it should be obvious to all the observers of the Asian scenario, especially the South Asian scenario, that if New Delhi's priority is physical and digital connectivity with its neighbourhood and in the wider SCO region, it simply cannot bypass either China or Pakistan. The compulsion of geography will not allow it to do so.

Secondly, according to a report in The Hindu, "India is rebalancing its ties with Pakistan, to open a path to Eurasia". Quoting an Indian diplomatic source, the report says that India is exploring "the possibility of connectivity to Central Asia through the Pakistan-Afghanistan corridor, under the SCO framework."

Thirdly, in an extraordinary statement, Chinese foreign minister and state councilor Wang Yi said that the SCO "serves as a great vehicle for improving the two nations' relations. As a result it will better safeguard the peace and stability of the region." 

Lastly, Iran, which is likely to join SCO as a full member (it now has observer status), has stated that it is ready to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project under BRI, and has even offered its Chabahar port to both Beijing and Islamabad. Chabahar is the port India is developing in the hope of using it to bypass Pakistan and reach Central Asia through Afghanistan. If Iran itself is going to join CPEC and BRI, India has no option but to follow suit.

Yes, Asia and the world are changing - and India-China-Pakistan cooperation will make the change unimaginably beneficial and beautiful.

(The writer was an aide to India's former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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