China’s One-Belt-one-Road Initiative: Your Sea is our Sea but My Sea is my Sea

Visiting Xuanzang's library in Xi'an - Xinwen Lianbo, click picture for video

Visiting Xuanzang’s library in Xi’an – Xinwen Lianbo, click picture for video

Former Chinese consul general to Kolkata, Mao Siwei (毛四维 毛四维) was optimistic about China-India relations in a India Today Global Roundtable event in Beijing in May 2015, suggesting that there was an expectation in China that Modi would usher in a new model of relations: “India-China 2.0”, according to the Daily Mail. While conceding that border issues, including China’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh, and Chinese investment in the Kashmiri regions controlled by Pakistan “challenged” the relationship, he expressed hope that during Indian prime minister Narendra Modi‘s visit to China would usher in the second stage where the focus will be on Chinese investment and making in India, thus succeeding the “first stage model” of 1988, which had been about “not letting the border issue getting in the way of overall relations”.

While the Roundtable apparently kept things nice, not everyone in Beijing agreed with Mao.

China’s state paper and website “Global Times” wrote on May 11 that

Modi has been busy strengthening India’s ties with neighboring countries to compete with China, while trying to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities for economic development created by China, as Beijing is actively carrying forward the “One Belt and One Road” initiative.

And:

Due to the Indian elites’ blind arrogance and confidence in their democracy, and the inferiority of its ordinary people, very few Indians are able to treat Sino-Indian relations accurately, objectively and rationally. Worse, some Indian media have been irresponsibly exaggerating the conflicts between the two sides, adding fuel to the hostility among the public.

Modi visited contested areas under Indian control to boost his prestige at home, the “Global Times” wrote, and Delhi was reluctant to admit that a widening trade deficit with China – its biggest trading partner – was its own fault.

The paper’s advice:

The Indian government should loosen up on the limits of cross-border trade with China, reduce the trade deficit, improve the efficiency of government administrations, and relax the visa restrictions, in order to attract more Chinese companies to invest in India.

On June 17, on his personal blog, Mao Siwei wrote about China’s One Belt, One Road initiative. India’s geographical position was a motivation for the initiative and needes a response from India, Mao wrote, and tried to answer the question why India was not taking part in the initiative.

Mao looked at what he sees as at least four views among India’s elites, concerning One Belt, One Road, and he cites four Indian commentators as examples for these views. However, he does not link to their articles in question, even though they are all available online, and of course, he leaves out much of the more controversial content there.

While Mao cites Sino-Indian relations expert Raja Mohan as showing the most constructive opinions of all  (quoting an Indian Express article of May 10 this year to prove this point), he writes that there are  also a very negative positions, as taken by Brahma Chellaney (in the context of Chellaney, Mao mentions a China-US Focus article of May 11, 2015).

Indeed, Mohan had warned in March that [as] Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares for his China visit in May, New Delhi can no longer delay the articulation of a coherent strategy to restore the subcontinent’s historic connectivity,

and rejected Indian anxieties as stemming from the error of viewing China’s Silk Road initiative through the narrow prism of geopolitics.

Mohans conclusions:

That India needs greater connectivity with its neighbours is not in doubt. All recent governments in Delhi have identified it as a major national objective. If China has economic compulsions of its own in putting money in regional connectivity, it makes eminent sense for Delhi to work with Beijing.

There was no either-or when it came to working with Beijing or – or rather and – with Tokyo and Washington.

Chellaney on the other hand sees colonialism looming from the North:

One example of how China has sought to “purchase” friendships was the major contracts it signed with Sri Lanka’s now-ousted president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to turn that strategically located Indian Ocean country into a major stop on China’s nautical “road.” The new president, Maithripala Sirisena, said on the election-campaign trail that the Chinese projects were ensnaring Sri Lanka in a “debt trap.”

In his election manifesto, without naming China, Sirisena warned: “The land that the White Man took over by means of military strength is now being obtained by foreigners by paying ransom to a handful of persons. This robbery is taking place before everybody in broad daylight… If this trend continues for another six years, our country would become a colony and we would become slaves.”

Besides, Chellaney accuses Beijing of operating a double standard:

China is also seeking to tap the Indian Ocean’s rich mineral wealth, and is inviting India to join hands with it in deep seabed mining there. Yet it opposes any Indian-Vietnamese collaboration in the South China Sea. “Your sea is our sea but my sea is my sea” seems to be the new Chinese saying.

 

Shyam Saran, a former foreign secretary, is cited by Mao Siwei as an example for a moderately positive stance. While Saran sees China and India as competitors in a very complex relationship, and one where China’s navy has not-so-friendly ideas (and ones that correspond with the “One-Belt-One-Road” initiative), Chinese surplus capital was still good for India’s infrastructure, Saran argues. The initiative could also help India to offset the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. At the same time, India should strengthen its security links with America, Japan, ASEAN and Australia, without signing on to a containment strategy against China.
Another rather critical commentator cited by Mao is Jabin T. Jacob, Assistant Director and Fellow at the Delhi Institute of Chinese Studies. Putting aside disputes as advocated by China was easier to practice for larger, than for smaller countries – indeed, the approach constituted a form of hegemony. Besides, China’s focus on initiatives like these was both exceptional among Asian countries, and also failed to acknowledge other maritime traditions and powers.
Jacob doesn’t mention the worn and corny Zheng He narrative, to which even the most benevolent listeners to the CCP tales might feel overexposed, and he doesn’t use the term arrogance either, but then, he hardly needs to. Anyone familiar with the subject can – probably – relate to what he writes.
In short, Jacob sees a new version

of the ancient Chinese political governing philosophy of tianxia. While the concept has been variously defined over history, at its most basic, it represented the rule over peoples with different cultures and from varied geographical areas by a single ruler.

Practically none of these points are mentioned by Mao; he just writes that Jacob doubts China’s ability or preparedness to understand India’s position in the historical Silk Road, and its practical implications, as well as as India’s interests and sensitivities on the Asian mainland and its waters.

It is obvious, writes Mao, that India does not want to respond to Xi Jinping‘s One-Belt-one-Road call, but it is just as obvious, that India is interesting in doing business with China. It could even become the second-largest shareholder in the Asian International Infrastructure Bank (AIIB). India also promoted Sino-Indian railway and port construction (Mao mentions Mundra Port in particular).
However, Mao writes, there is a lack of political and strategic consensus with China (在政治上和战略上与中方缺乏共识). China was focused on economic cooperation, India was focused on border disputes. Regional rivalries – not necessarily recognized by Mao as such – and America’s Asia-Pacific Rebalance (亚洲再平衡) and Narendra Modis Act East policy (向东行动) were connecting to each other on a global level.
And China’s economic involvement in the Pakistan-controlled Kashmir regions – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – constituted a flagship of China’s One-Belt-one-Road initiative. Nothing to please India.
In short, India’s non-participation in the One-Belt-one-Road initiative just reflects the objective fact of a “new bottleneck” in current Sino-Indian relations. The author [i. e. Mao Silwei] believes that as long as the two sides can gradually broaden a consensus concerning the handling of border issues, and pay attention to communication concerning maritime security, there should be hope for finding links between the two countries’ development strategies.
总之,印度不参加“一带一路”只是一种表象,它折射出当前中印关系正处于一个“新瓶颈”的客观现实。在笔者看来,只要双方在处理边界问题方面能逐渐增加共识,并在海上安全领域重视沟通、开展合作,中印两国的发展战略相互对接应该是有希望的。

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Updates / Related

» Small Country Diplomacy, Sino-NK, June 22, 2015
» Staying Alive in Tibet, March 31, 2012
» Two Divisions Wanting to Die, Aug 24, 2010

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