China’s One Belt One Road initiative is neither new, nor about A road. Essentially it proposes to resurrect the ancient land and sea Silk Routes from China to the West, with modern infrastructure in roads, rails, ports, power plants etc. China will play $115 billion Santa Claus to 60 odd countries strung across Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia.
It scored early by co-opting earlier projects like the Europe-China rail and CPEC into OBOR … since there is no definitive project list anyway.
The aim of OBOR? Anything from using up China’s mythical cash hordes; to resurrecting centuries-old domination over South East Asia, later Africa and now Europe and Australia too; to establish its hegemony over more than half the world with cheap loans, after its moves over the South China Sea.
The territory is familiar to India, History’s hoary Trading Nation. International trading routes cannot ignore India, straddling the Indian Ocean, with Zanzibar, Nairobi in the West and Gujarat and Kerala in the East; further east Kolkata, keyed into OBOR as South China’s access to Mynamar, Bangladesh etc to bypass the Malacca Straits, if ever blocked.
Why would it be blocked??
India’s relations, cultural and trade, with East Africa, Far East and Myanmar are hoary. First Hinduism, then Buddhism went East in peace. Witness Balinese Hinduism, Ramayan influenced dances, the Borobudur temple in Java, a colossal heritage Angkor Wat temple.
China’s came too, with dark spots of hegemony and overrule; worst being China-supported Red regimes that overran Indo China, split Vietnam and resulted in horrendous brutality by local regimes, the Reds and Americans.
To them and Europe, China’s OBOR avatar offers ports, rails, roads and other infrastructural goodies, funded by China and its financial sector.
The question is: What is the catch?
Meanwhile, India rests on her past, Non Aligned laurels and pennies: a petroleum hub at Trincomalee, a maritime hub at Andaman; China sells intercontinental railways, we sell railway database. The gas pipeline and highway linking Iran to us, via Afghanistan, offering access to Central Asia malingers over Bogeyman Corruption/Delays. Projects with multi nodal links (ship-rail-road) to Europe, via Turkey, Gulf, Central Asia, Russia sank into mire.
In the run up to the grand OBOR festival, we ‘discovered’ that CPEC cut through what we fondly call Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, disputed territory that is the pet cottage industry of various central ministries under successive governments.
What were our diplomats doing since 2013, after which Xi Ping was entertained at Ahmedabad and PM Modi in China? Talking about Arabs and Chinese being ‘unnatural allies’, or the dams being built along our border with China?
Let’s face facts: POK is the nub of Central Asian land routes that kept those areas bound to India since Time Immemorial. Sindhis serviced Central Asian trade financially, amongst others; their hundis respected across Eurasia. At Partition, when Pakistan got Sindh, Hindu traders fled. While they rebuilt global connections, we forgot about them.
Now India whistles in the dark alone, “They’ll have to come to me to complete their circle”. Who’s coming along?