Originally Published 2015-06-10 00:00:00 Published on Jun 10, 2015
India is located at such a prime position that it can't miss out the opportunity to be part of the MSR. Both the Marine Silk Road and the continental Silk Road --which is going to connect China with the central Asia -- are going to pass from India's periphery. India could gain a lot from being an active partner to the MSR. And, not joining it may isolate India.
Why India should join China's MSR

The growth of China has been remarkable ever since it undertook reforms in 1978 and China is currently the second largest economy in the world, even having overtaken Japan. In order to sustain this development, the concept of the Silk Road was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jingping during his visit to Indonesia in October 2013.The Chinese maritime Silk Road is an attempt to create economic cooperation and connectivity by reviving the ancient Silk Road.

The main aim of China is to develop its landlocked south east provinces, to enable them access the markets of south east Asia and west Asia, thus shaping China's regional periphery by exercising economic, cultural and political influence. India was cordially invited to be a part the new marine Silk Road but so far its response has been lukewarm. India's reticence has mainly been due to uncertainty in the modality of "what" and "how" will the MSR (maritime silk route) be implemented along with the concerns whether it will have a geo-economic rationale or would it have security orientation. The MSR will extend from the Quanzhou province in China, heading south to Malacca Strait, from Kuala lampur it will head to Kolkata, crossing the northern Indian Ocean to Nairobi, Kenya.

The Chinese view of the MSR has been that apart from developing its own periphery, the MSR will help in the upgradation of the maritime connectivity and cooperation on disaster mitigation and development of fisheries between Indo-Pacific, East Africa and Mediterranean. There are many views about the Silk Road -- some in favor of India becoming an active partner and other cautioning it about the covert military side of the MSR.

Many are viewing the MSR as China's attempt to "reorder Asia" and to undermine the American influence in the region. Another explanation behind China coming forward with the Silk Route is the US' policy of "pivot to Asia" which focuses on concentrating additional forces and equipment in the Asia-pacific region along with establishing a regional free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region (in the form of Trans Pacific partnership) - forming the "China containment" strategy of the US and its allies in Asia.

China has a tradition of using the "Cheque book" policy against India. And under the MSR, China is developing ports in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan and is trying to enlarge its sphere of influence using its economic might in the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea. In this way, the MSR is nothing but an economic disguise to the "string of pearl" theory. China is investing huge amount of money in India's immediate neighbours and these south-east Asian countries tend to use the "China card" against India in order to further their development and economic agenda. More south east Asian economies coming under China's sphere of influence would result in a serious setback to India's traditional conception of subcontinent as a privileged sphere.

China's "one belt one road" initiative has an economic and strategic rationale. In the last 35 years, China has concentrated on the development and the progress of east China. The project is comprehensive and multifaceted and seeks to establish China not only as an Asia Pacific power but also as a global power. Through this project, China is planning to modernise the economy of western China. The launch of the project will provide new export markets for Chinese goods and capital. Given the limited demand in developed countries, China through this initiative will find new markets for exports where most of the countries have huge domestic demand due to burgeoning middle class.

In the above backdrop, India is located at such a prime position that it can't miss out the opportunity to be part of the MSR. Both the marine Silk Road and the continental Silk Road --which is going to connect China with the central Asia -- are going to pass from India's periphery. India could gain a lot from being an active partner to the MSR. More than anything, India would get isolated, if it refuses to be part of the Silk Road and the rest of the south east Asian countries and ASEAN countries decide to join it. In such a situation, what would be best for India is to accept the invitation to join the MSR and at the same avail itself every opportunity it can to join a US-led regional pact -- the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Another reason why India can't turn a blind eye to the MSR is that it has expressed its desire to attract huge Chinese investments, and being part of the MSR will help India in getting more Chinese investments. Moreover, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) project would further enable China to create deeper linkages with Myanmar and South East Asian nations. At the same time, the BCIM can help India develop its north east region and thus further its Act East Policy.

Looking at the pace of the China's MSR, India could present its ideas and ensure that it becomes an active member of the MSR. For India, the MSR could prove to be a perfect platform to enhance its regional and bilateral cooperation. India does not have the same economic might as China but investing in neighbouring littoral countries will help in reducing China's sphere of influence and dominance in South Asia to some extent. China and India export similar set of goods to ASEAN, south Asia and also a few countries in western Europe and central Asia. Once the 'one road one belt' initiative is launched, these regions might divert their trade from India to China because of easier accessibility to Chinese goods and currency exchange.

Going forward, it would be in the best interests of India to not only keep a keen eye on the MSR but also join it.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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Kangkanika Neog

Kangkanika Neog

Kangkanika Neog Programme Associate Council on Energy Environment and Water (CEEW)

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