In what comes as a big international victory for China and a major setback for India, the United Nations Security Council has for the first time officially endorsed China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in a resolution on regional economic cooperation and connectivity. China President Xi Jinping’s multi-billion dollar legacy project is often called a game-changer that could improve regional connectivity in Asia and create numerous economic and job opportunities in the region.
While China claims the BRI has attracted the support of at least 100 countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and a number of countries in Europe, India has so far opposed it despite China’s invitations to become part of it. India has several problems with the BRI and China’s other regional development initiatives, which include the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Even though the BRI and CPEC would significantly improve connectivity in the region and create new economic opportunities for all regional players, including India, New Delhi strongly refuses to endorse the project because of its decades-long territory disputes with Pakistan. CPEC passes through the disputed Kashmir territory, which is currently under the control of Pakistan. Signing up for CPEC or even the BRI would mean that India would have to give up its claims on Kashmir, or at least that’s what many in the Indian government think.
One more international win for China, a loss for India
The newly-adopted UN Security Council resolution calls for the international community and all regional players to consolidate and strengthen their efforts to implement the BRI. In the resolution, the 15-nation UN body calls to promote security and stability in Afghanistan and the region as a whole.
To do that, the UN resolution cites China’s regional development initiatives, including the Silk Road Economic Belt and the BRI, which are set to connect Asia with Europe and Africa through a sophisticated trade and infrastructure network, according to China’s state-run news agency Xinhua. Renewing the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan for one year, the resolution calls to “create a community of shared future for mankind.”
This the first time the UN has welcomed China’s efforts to facilitate regional connectivity through its initiatives in a resolution.
India’s international isolation deepens
So far, New Delhi has expressed no interest whatsoever in becoming part of or even merely endorsing China’s regional development initiatives. Last month, Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar reiterated his country’s issues with China’s regional development initiatives, saying that China’s CPEC threatens India’s sovereignty as it passes through the disputed Kashmir territory.
As the UN calls for “further international efforts to strengthen regional cooperation and implement the Belt and Road Initiative,” the international community could be further isolating India in the region.
In recent years, India has lost support from its most reliable ally Russia, which has seemingly turned its back on New Delhi and started warming up to Pakistan and China – India’s biggest enemies in the region – instead. In addition to that, India can no longer rely on support from the U.S., whose rapprochement with India served as a motivation for Moscow to start seeking new allies in the region.
The U.S. has too much on its hands now with the presidency of Donald Trump, who has yet to outline his South Asia policies or at least express his interest in continuing his predecessor Barack Obama’s efforts to strengthen ties with New Delhi. One can argue that India has never been so isolated as it is now.
India has to watch China’s influence grow
The UN resolution comes just weeks before China is set to host its Belt and Road forum, which is aimed at boosting international cooperation. Beijing will host its first-ever BRI summit in May, with more than 20 government leaders and over 50 heads of international organizations set to attend.
In fact, if India does not join the BRI, it could end up watching China’s growing international and regional influence while not being able to do anything, according to Chinese state-run media. On Monday, China’s Global Times wrote an article saying that New Delhi cannot prevent the growth of China’s regional development initiatives and added that India risks further isolating itself.
“If India wants to exclude itself from the OBOR at a time when the initiative is receiving widespread support from the global community, India will end up simply watching the rise of China’s international reputation,” the newspaper wrote.
The Chinese newspaper also argued that India risks being left out from major investment opportunities flowing into the region after the implementation of the BRI and other Chinese connectivity initiatives. The newspaper notes that while the BRI and CPEC are purely “economic initiatives,” New Delhi’s fears that China is trying to challenge India’s sovereignty are keeping it from soaking up the benefits of the regional connectivity projects.
The Global Times argues that “it is necessary to learn to distinguish activities between normal commercial investment and ones that could violate India’s sovereignty.”
Would India join BRI to save itself from isolation?
Echoing calls from the Chinese leadership for India to join the ambitious connectivity project, the newspaper suggested that India could actually tilt the BRI’s center of gravity towards itself, but only by joining the project.
The Global Times notes that Beijing and New Delhi have “a large potential” for cooperation in areas such as infrastructure. In fact, becoming part of the BRI could not only benefit economic ties between Beijing and New Delhi but also the entire region as a whole.
The article also argues that New Delhi would be better off joining the BRI, as its efforts to influence other countries to shun the project have been unsuccessful. While India has yet to react to the UN’s newly-adopted resolution that endorses China’s game-changer initiative, experts debate whether India could in fact change its position on the BRI and possibly even join it. Would doing so mean that New Delhi is giving up its claims on Kashmir in order to save itself from being isolated in the region?