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'Modi changed India's attitude towards Maritime Silk Road plan'

By K J M Varma
Last updated on: July 04, 2016 14:46 IST
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China's Silk Road plan the name of which was subsequently changed to ‘Belt and Road’ project moots a maze of roads and corridors connecting China with Asia and Europe.

A Chinese daily on Monday claimed that former prime minister Manmohan Singh had ‘expressed support’ for China's ambitious Maritime Silk Road plan but his successor Narendra Modi ‘changed’ India's ‘attitude’ towards the initiative by using delaying tactics.

"Indian strategists and the government believe there is some geostrategic design behind the 'Belt and Road' (Silk Road) initiative.

"Now, India has adopted opposing, delaying and hedging measures toward different parts of the initiative," an article published in the state-run Global Times said.

"When China initiated the MSR in 2013, then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his national security advisor Shivshankar Menon expressed support and interest.

“But current Prime Minister Narendra Modi changed India's attitude toward MSR after he came into power," the article written by Liu Zongyi, a fellow of state-run Shanghai Institutes for International Studies said.

India from the beginning has reservations over the strategic impact of the MSR on the Indian Ocean, observers here pointed out that India first sought details of the project since its outline was unveiled in 2014.

The final blueprint of the MSR which was part of the mega Belt and Road project was released by Chinese President Xi Jinping only in March last year during Boao Forum for Asia by which time Modi government was firmly in saddle.

Vice President Hamid Ansari during his visit to Beijing in June said New Delhi had sought more details about the MSR.

China's Silk Road plan the name of which was subsequently changed to ‘Belt and Road’ project moots a maze of roads and corridors connecting China with Asia and Europe.

Besides the MSR and BCIM, the plan includes China Pakistan Economic Corridor, rail and road connectivity with Central Asia and Europe.

India has already conveyed its objection to CPEC as it goes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, during her visit to Beijing last year, said India will not give a blanket endorsement to the MSR project but support where the synergies of the two countries meet.

While criticising India's approach to MSR, Monday's article in the Global Times also said China should increase maritime cooperation with India to dispel misgivings.

"China should improve connections and cooperation with the Indian Ocean Rim Association and other regional cooperation organisations in the Indian Ocean. At the same time, China should improve maritime cooperation with India," it said.

"Western scholars forged and hyped China's 'string of pearls strategy' in the Indian Ocean, and some Indians believe that MSR is just an alternative wording that sounds more pleasant and is used to replace the string of pearls strategy," the article said.

"The so-called string of pearls strategy is a military and geostrategic design. But Chinese leaders define the 'Belt and Road' initiative as the top-level design of China's opening-up and economic diplomacy in the new era and Chinese solutions and suggestions toward world peace and development," it said.

"India's reaction toward the 'Belt and Road' initiative is a part of its Indo-Pacific strategy under which India takes precedence of geopolitics over geoeconomics cooperation," it said.

Indian hedging strategy toward the 'Belt and Road' has very strong military and strategic implications.

The 'Belt and Road' initiative is an economic cooperation, and China will invest a large amount of capital along the route that India cannot match, it added.

"Modi's visit to three Indian Ocean countries in March 2015 shows that India is determined to adopt an asymmetrical strategy to secure a dominant position in the Indian Ocean through bolstering military and security cooperation with these island nations," it said.

Also India enforced its military and strategic coordination with the US, Japan and some Southeast Asian countries which have islands disputes with China in the South China Sea, it said.

"So in the Indo-Pacific region, there is competition between geoeconomic cooperation and geopolitical cooperation.

“India, the US and Japan want to hedge economic and trade cooperation initiated by China with their military and security cooperation.

“This situation does not benefit the advancement of the 'Belt and Road' initiative," it said.

To deal with the situation, China should make clear its purposes in the Indian Ocean, "specially the security of sea lanes of energy and trade, the security of overseas investment and the security of overseas Chinese, to build strategic trust with Indian Ocean countries, especially India," it said.

Also China should step up efforts to improve maritime economic cooperation, maritime interconnection, civil cooperation, disaster relief cooperation, legal cooperation and other maritime security activities, providing more international public goods collectively with other countries, to ensure the security of sea lanes and freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean, it said.

"In the long run it is necessary to build a stable regional security architecture.

China should continue to advocate new security concepts and make efforts to build an inclusive and democratic regional security architecture," it said.

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K J M Varma in Beijing
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