Opinion – India’s role in China’s Silk Route

China has proposed to revive her erstwhile Silk Route in an attempt to revive her economic as well as cultural ties that it once possessed with other civilizations. The China’s Silk Route includes the Maritime Silk Route (MSR), Iron Silk Route and Highway Silk Route.

Maritime Silk Route(MSR): It includes the series of ports and the trade routes that China wants to develop connecting Africa and Europe [as shown in the map below] passing through South China Sea and Indian Ocean. Some of them are [String of Pearls]:

  • Kyaukpyu of Myanmar
  • Chittagong and the recently proposed Sonadia of Bangladesh
  • Hambantota and the Colombo port of Sri Lanka
  • Gwadar port of Pakistan

Iron Silk Route: It includes the series of railway lines which China has been building connecting Europe, Asia and Africa. They are:

  • The world’s longest railway link from Yuwi of China to Madrid of Spain
  • Extending the railway line from Tibet to Nepal
  • Rail Corridor connecting the Yunnan Province of China with the Arakan coast of Myanmar
  • Other proposed railway corridors in Africa connecting the hinterlands with the ports. Ex: Nairobi and Mombasa of Kenya

Highway Silk Route: It includes the road corridors like BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar) Corridor. It is also trying to connect Yunnan Province to Kyaukpyu of Myanmar in conjunction with the rail corridor. This is being pursued by China inorder to bypass the Malacca strait, where India’s and USA’s influence is very strong (this is called the China’s “Malacca’s Dilemma“).

China's Silk RouteChina’s Silk Route

Threats for India:

  • China’s MSR could be a guise to her “String of Pearls”. Whether this is true or not, the proposed MSR will increase the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean Region which is certainly a matter of concern for India.
  • China’s Silk Route in conjunction with the MSR fits well into the argument of “encircling India”, as can be seen from the above figure.
  • Also, the economic benefits in the form of investments and trade that China is luring with, may be difficult for the nations of the region to reject. As a result, the nations of the region, including the supporters of India, would welcome the Chinese investments, which could be a strategic victory of China over India.

Interestingly, China had invited India to join this initiative. So what must India do? India has two options here – either to move away from the initiative or become an active member in it.

I believe India becoming an active member would be the right step. It would allow India to ensure that these developments do not grow inimical to her interests and in case they do, she can use the same platform to raise her concerns and can impose “peer pressure” on China to withdraw such attempts. Also, given the scale of investments that China is promising, the nations of the region, particularly Africa, cannot afford to reject them. Hence, by not joining this initiative, India would be further distanced away from these nations. And of course, not to mention the added economic benefits that India would get in return. As a matter of fact, despite her apprehensions, India had already started moving towards the initiative, which is evident from the fact that India had accepted the Chinese invitation of joining the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which is supposed to fund the infrastructure projects needed for the Silk Route. As far as the MSR is concerned, by becoming an active member of the initiative, India must leverage on her geographical advantages (A&N islands and her strategic position in Indian Ocean) to ensure that India continues to dominate her maritime backyard (Indian Ocean) without ceding its control to China. Also, the recent economic slowdown of the Chinese economy will significantly slow down her momentum in pursuing the Silk Route, allowing adequate time for India to scrutinise these moves and allow them at a pace which India is comfortable with.

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