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Sino-India relations

China must heed India’s concerns to coax Modi on board the belt and road caravan

Manik Mehta says greater sensitivity to India’s concerns over territorial integrity, as well as fighting terrorism and Nuclear Suppliers Group membership, would help China make its case with New Delhi

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 May, 2017, 12:03pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 May, 2017, 6:34pm

While the just-concluded One Belt One Road Forum in Beijing had all the trappings of a colossal international spectacle, with leaders and politicians from around the world smiling for the international media and photographers, the absence of some political heavyweights served as a stark reminder that all was not going according to President Xi Jinping’s ( 習近平 ) choreography.

Xi would have liked to see one leader who was conspicuously missing: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Miffed by Chinese attempts to undermine India’s interests, Modi declined the invitation to attend the summit in Beijing.

India, a rising power in its own right, has a number of grievances against China: first, China has tried one ruse after another to block India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, although the overwhelming majority of NSG members favour India’s inclusion.

China has argued that both India and Pakistan should become members. This was a condition that not only angered India but also other countries, particularly the US, which has strongly condemned Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation activities and its clandestine supply of technology to North Korea.

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China’s behaviour at the UN Security Council has also caused heartburn for India. China has blocked India’s bid to get Masood Azhar, head of the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, added to the international blacklist of terrorists, although the remaining 14 council members supported India’s bid.

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Azhar, accused of masterminding Jaish-e-Mohammed’s attack in January on an Indian air force base in the border town of Pathankot, is also known to have preached extremist ideology and jihad at several British mosques during a month-long visit to Britain in 1993, inciting young Muslims to seek arms training in terrorist camps in Pakistan, British sources, including the BBC, have reported.

By obstructing Azhar’s inclusion in the blacklist, China faces criticism for shielding a known terrorist. China’s conduct in regard to Azhar belies its claims of combating global terrorism and extremism.

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There is also the fundamental issue of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which it says have been violated. The belt and road would cover 68 nations – from China through Southeast and South Asia to Africa and Europe. The core problem for India is the location of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which Beijing flaunts as a flagship belt and road project.

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According to India, the corridor runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir , which India considers its own territory. The Indian External Affairs Ministry recently reinforced India’s stand that no country would accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Another reason for China to be wary is that the Chinese-funded Gwadar Port in Pakistan is highly unpopular in Baluchistan, the province where it is located. Anti-Pakistan sentiments run high there because the Baluch people claim the province was forcibly annexed and Islamabad has, over the decades, neglected the province’s development while exploiting its mineral wealth.

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The huge 1.25 billion-strong Indian market is attractive for Chinese suppliers, particularly of low-end products, but that market could slip from China’s grasp. China, as it does with most countries of the world, also runs a huge trade surplus with India.

Without India, the belt and road project could face long-term problems

China urgently needs markets such as India for its huge overcapacity that is creating massive job losses amid a slowing world economy and declining demand.

If China is keen to get India on board the Belt and Road Initiative, it will need to demonstrate greater sensitivity to India’s concerns.

A good start would be to sort out issues such as India’s membership of the NSG and Azhar’s designation as a terrorist. The question of India’s sovereignty over Pakistan-occupied territory also needs to be resolved; if Kashmir is indeed a disputed territory, as Pakistan repeatedly claims, then the latter has no legitimacy in allowing China to use it for strategic and commercial interests. Without India, the belt and road project could face long-term problems.

Manik Mehta is a New York-based political commentator