The MEA spokesman said the Belt Road Initiative (BRI) does not meet “universally recognized international norms”. 29 heads of state/government begged to disagree when they decided to personally attend the forum. Nor did 130 participant countries, representing two-thirds of the UN’s membership, endorse the Indian view. Nor did the 68 countries and international organizations that have signed “belt and road” agreements with China. Nor did any participant object when, at his press conference at the end of the Forum’s deliberations, President Xi treated himself to putting icing on the cake he has baked by institutionalizing the Forum’s deliberations. He announced that there would be a second round of the Forum two years down the line – in 2019. Perhaps by then there will also be a new government in India.
Modi can comfort himself by noting that Bhutan too did not attend. But Nepal did. So did Sri Lanka. And so did Myanmar. So also Trump who, despite his reservations about China, decided at the last minute to send a top aide, Mathew Pottinger. Two other “friends” of India, Japan and Vietnam, who have serious maritime territorial disputes with China, were very much present.
So, what’s with our argument that “international norms” were being flouted by China’s BRI? Our spokesman also faulted BRI for not adhering to Modi’s Five-Fold Path of “good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality”. Not one of two-thirds of the international community who attended the Forum echoed that view, and no one, not even Bhutan, explicitly endorsed our stand.
Although our spokesman rambled over a large ambit of objections, his principal gripe was with issues of “sovereignty and territorial integrity”. The Chinese responded by saying that BRI was “devoid of sovereignty issues”. To India’s insistence that these issues were involved in a project that takes in the Karakoram Pass, filched from India by Pakistan and gratuitously handed over to China, the Chinese have replied that their position on Kashmir has not changed because of CPEC (the China Pakistan Economic Corridor) or BRI. They limit themselves to restating their stand that this is an “issue left over from history” and should, therefore, be “properly addressed by the two countries through consultation and negotiation.” We, of course, neither consult nor negotiate with Pakistan. And however much we might “huff and puff” over CPEC/BRI, we are unlikely to “blow the house down”.
An interesting sideshow is Ambassador PS Raghavan’s clever suggestion in The Hindu that India’s concerns might be met by declaring that CPEC is not part of BRI. Well tried, Raghavan, but, sorry, there are no takers for that sleight of…