Of the six major economic corridors under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, the brightest is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). A flagship project under the Initiative, it extends more than 3,000 kilometers from China’s Kashgar to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, connecting a region inhabited by billions of people. The project’s launch was a major boon to Pakistan’s infrastructure development.
⎟中巴经济走廊意在地区稳定 CPEC Eyes Regional Stability
Both Chinese and Pakistan governments hope that the CPEC will benefit all of Pakistan and accelerate its economic growth, which would enhance the region’s stability and security.
China believes that security collaboration and economic cooperation are two closely-related fields and that any improvement in either will certainly boost the other. Security and economic development are like two wheels of a bicycle: Progress screeches to a halt if either wheel is lost. China believes that economic development can help improve Pakistan’s security and that the rejuvenation of its economy will not only enhance the stability of the South Asian country, but also promote stability throughout the region, including the western border of China.
However, to India, the CPEC exerts massive strategic pressure. In the eyes of the Indian leaders, both China and Pakistan are its major rivals. They argue that the project shifts cooperation from strategic to economic cooperation, making the China-Pakistan bilateral relationship too tight. India is unwilling to accept such a situation. The most glaring problem to India is that the CPEC runs through the disputed area of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. For this reason, India considers the CPEC a threat, which has cast a cloud of persisting doubt over China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Furthermore, India doesn’t endorse China’s pattern of improving its relations with neighboring countries and claims that the trend is primarily rooted in creating closer economic contact to foster interdependence. However, China’s extended hand has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from many South Asian nations, which is reducing India’s influence in the region. On May 13, a day before the two-day Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation opened in Beijing, a spokesman from India’s Ministry of External Affairs explicitly declared that India wouldn’t send any high-ranking officials to attend the forum, so a long way is yet to go before India joins the Belt and Road Initiative.
Of every piece of the Belt and Road Initiative, the CPEC remains the most insurmountable obstacle for India. In fact, China and India have different understandings of the CPEC.
From China’s perspective, the project transcends the triangular relationship between China, India and Pakistan and aims at enhancing regional development and stability by strengthening economic cooperation and connectivity, which in turn safeguards China’s interests. In a recent speech at the United Service Institution of India, Chinese Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui clarified that China would prioritize its national interests when handling foreign affairs concerning South Asia and make sure every effort is conducive to the development of China and the stability of the whole region.
But if India develops faster and healthier, a fast-growing Pakistan won’t necessarily diminish India’s strength. Conversely, would a poor, terrorism-plagued Pakistan be in India’s best interest? The economic development of Pakistan will boost regional stability and mitigate cross-border terrorism threats, which is only conducive to the prosperity and development of India. Unfortunately, spillover effect from the security dilemma has significantly decimated India’s willingness to engage in economic cooperation with Pakistan and China.
⎟当下之道在于增强了解 Enhancing Mutual Understanding Is Key
China’s Belt and Road Initiative has already become a global plan with focus on international consensus, common development and shared benefits. Throughout implementation of the Initiative, China has never set a fixed list of participants and continuously adhered to the principle of remaining open to all who are willing to cooperate under the prerequisite of “extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits.” The Belt and Road Initiative is not just a Chinese program, but a symphony performed by every participant. All participating countries and regions are encouraged to pool their wisdom and seek consensus, opportunity and new development by working together.
For China’s neighbors, priority should be placed on promoting bilateral connectivity and building mutually beneficial cooperation networks with China and then gradually consolidating multilateral cooperation mechanisms. The CPEC can be considered a pilot project for bilateral connectivity between China and its neighbors, which is expected to expand to a multilateral cooperation projects when conditions are ripe.
China as well as any other participating countries must maintain open attitudes toward cooperation under the Belt and Road. The principles of “seeing the big picture and seeking mutual benefits, win-win cooperation and common development” creates great space for stakeholders to discuss specific projects and cooperative mechanisms concerning the Belt and Road Initiative. To promote construction of the Belt and Road, involved parties should put disagreements such as territorial disputes on hold and seek opportunities that could end up solving them. To achieve optimal development, India must utilize the resources of other countries and international organizations rather than stubbornly relying only on its own power.
Because most of its South Asian neighbors are even less developed than India, they lack the funds, talent and technologies to support their development and turn to India for support. Considering this disadvantage, the Indian government formulated and enacted the “Look East” policy. Unfortunately, the policy focuses on strategic balance in the Asia-Pacific region and doesn’t consider China, the largest and most dynamic economy neighboring India.
India has yet to release a positive response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, signifying that differences and deficiencies in mutual understanding between the two countries remain. China is attaching greater and greater importance to its relations with neighboring countries. In fact, China would highly value India’s role in implementing the Belt and Road Initiative. Whether and how India will participate in the Initiative are popular topics in the Chinese media, public and academia. However, India’s indifference and doubt towards the Initiative and absence from the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation disappointed China.
Still, India’s attitude reflects an undeniable fact: China must overcome other countries’ distrust and doubt arising from geopolitical concerns to promote the Belt and Road Initiative. Pinpointing the best way to effectively implement the Initiative and have it be accepted by others remains a challenge for China.
Due to historical factors such as the India-Pakistan wars and the China-India border war of 1962, security concerns related to China and Pakistan have become part of national identity of India. Old mindsets are hard to change.
Despite how much the connectivity and further openness of South Asia has already enhanced India’s national strength, the country’s security concerns and national pride of its leaders make the government inclined to take diplomatic approaches towards China from geopolitical and security perspectives. India remains reluctant to cooperate with China, and such an attitude puts any constructive attempt in rough waters.
The core values of the Silk Road Spirit are “peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefits.” China needs to consider India’s concerns and show greater tolerance and patience when dealing with its South Asian neighbor, but India should try to look at China’s diplomatic moves from beyond strategic and security perspectives. China and India can effectively eliminate their differences only by enhancing mutual understanding on respective policy, philosophy and logic. Disputes can be controlled if addressed head on. For now, perhaps the only path forward for China and India is deepening understanding through greater interaction. ■