China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an infrastructure development project planned and funded by China to connect its westernmost city Kashgar in northwestern autonomous province Xinjiang to Pakistan’s port city Gwadar. This project forms a very crucial part of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. It not only provides China with an alternative route for trade and energy supplies but also aims to give a major boost to Pakistan’s economy by developing Special Economic Zones and improving the electricity supply. India’s skepticism over this project is partially justified. A part of CPEC passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) which openly shows China’s support to Pakistan on the issue. Another possible threat from this project is the possibility that China may use Gwadar as a military base in future in case of escalation of Indo-China conflicts.
CPEC is just a part of China’s bigger OBOR initiative which has gained miraculous support from a number of countries including our neighbors Nepal, Afganistan and Sri Lanka. India has so far decided to stay out of it. Some believe it is because of the never ending India-China rivalry while others believe it is better for India to focus on Washington-New Delhi-Tokyo pivot. The Huge trade deficit of India with China certainly makes a point. If India chooses to join OBOR, increased possibility of flooding of the Indian market with Chinese goods can not be ignored. This is the same reason why India and Brazil have been opposing BRICS Free Trade Agreement (BRICS FTA).
But benefits of joining OBOR are far more compared to BRICS FTA. OBOR in its proposed form has the potential of opening central Asian and European markets for Indian goods. India is currently trying to access these markets via Iran’s Chabahar port bypassing Pakistan as far as possible. Another benefit of joining OBOR is that it will offer more avenues for India and China to work on their differences and understand that they are not really rivals. They are both targeting different things and one’s growth in no way is going to affect the growth potential of the other. In fact, it works the other way around. With increasing co-operation with China and Russia, this initiative may also offer India opportunity to highlight its anti-terror stance and possibly get support from other affected countries of the region. Today, with the world becoming increasingly dependent, there can not be an isolated growth. India joining this initiative will not only provide us with better and bigger markets but will also help the whole Asian region realize its potential.
Even with India’s foreign policy shifting away from NonAlignment, it is important that we keep good relations with the emerging power like China without losing the confidence of US and Russia. India must maintain its image of stabilizer in the Asian region and it can not do so by isolating itself from a transcontinental connectivity initiative like OBOR. An aspiring global power like India can not afford to be Pakistan-centric anymore. India needs to stand together with its neighbors and work towards creating a stronger and more prosperous Asia.