- Winds of change
For the last couple of years there has been a steady rise in criticism from India and the United States of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) global infrastructure project that plans to connect more than 65 economies worldwide. However, OBOR’s South Asian belt in the form of CPEC presents a unique opportunity to meet some of the core regional security and economic challenges that continue to embolden forces of insecurity and drive and fuel conflicts.
One of the biggest challenges to China’s dream of emerging as a global economic superpower deal with local and regional conflicts that are present from the Eurasian to Indian Ocean regions. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which runs through Pakistan and remains a key part of China’s global connectivity project, has seen plenty of regional resistance so far.
In this regard, Pakistan’s geostrategic importance, the surging militancy in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India’s protracted conflict and China and Russia’s growing interest to isolate the United States influence in the region remain some of the issues that can be counted as drivers of resistance when it comes to plugging China’s economic ambitions to widen regional connectivity and interdependence.
The debate related to “economic supremacy” that Beijing has brought into the mix as a new force to resolve conflicts, with all its limitations, will eventually bring the region closer
So, where do we go from here? The debate related to “economic supremacy” that Beijing has brought into the mix as a new force to resolve conflicts, with all its limitations, will eventually bring the region closer. Economic corridors which some countries are building as an alternative to other regional rivals will have an overall positive impact on economic growth of the region. It’s encouraging that ‘geo-economics’ has emerged as the new force of statecraft where regional states are getting their geopolitical focus back on lifting their countries and their people out of poverty through economic growth.
While India is focused on resisting China’s growing economic and diplomatic clout in the region, it’s unlikely that in the coming years, the former can benefit strategically by not joining Beijing’s economic bandwagon. It can certainly prove effective for New Dehli’s own regional and global economic ambitions. For now, India’s aim of developing regional corridors – such as the Chabahar port in Iran – in competition to China development of the Gwadar port may appear to be a strategy that is going to unravel in parallel zones. However, India needs to realise that its infrastructure and connectivity projects hardly offer incentives to regional states let alone connecting New Dehli beyond the Indian Ocean regions. India’s investments in Iran only focused on bring Afghanistan into India’s trade ambit. Besides that, the project hardly touches any economies with China massing its resources, expertise, and future looking plans to unite and revive regional connectivity.
“A decade from now, India will have to assess what it has gained in opposing the Belt and Road Initiative and instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on connectivity with countries like Afghanistan (assuming New Delhi fulfills its pledges on Chabahar). India may find itself to be the odd man out,” argues Arif Rafiq while writing for the War on the Rocks.
The scope and reach of India’s port in Iran doesn’t offer an alternative to what China is willing to offer the regional economies. South Asian states – particularly India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan – which remain in a triangular conflict situation need to realise that Beijing’s economic plans not only have the potential to open up new economic opportunities which remain untapped but they can also serve as a great conflict resolution mechanism. Confrontation and warmongering can fizzle out on its own when economic connectivity takes central place where individual state actors have much to lose by pursuing conflict and unilateral gains.
On the other hand, however, what India and the United States need to fathom is that the era of leveraging influence on smaller states against its strategic rivals is thing of the past now. India and the United States cannot hope to control Afghanistan and manage the crisis when they are bent upon playing zero-sum games. Afghanistan, Iran and the Central Asian region have shown willingness and interest in joining emerging regional economic blocks and connectivity routes. A few days ago, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China held a trilateral dialogue mechanism to expand political engagement aimed at bringing peace and explore opportunities to involve Afghanistan into the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Iran on its part continues to show pragmatic willingness in its foreign policy that remains open to trade partnerships that can help it grow domestically.
In this era of economic inter-dependence, the United States cannot contain China’s ambitions to rise as the next economic success story. The US can benefit by joining Chinese ventures globally if power politics can take the second position. Moreover, India and the United States need to view China’s investments in the region with pragmatism, for both states stand to gain by assisting regional connectivity rather than showing competitive tendencies which will only instigate poverty and create new forces of violence.