OBOR policy blunder haunts Modi as third year celebrations begin

Meanwhile, the public opinion in our neighbouring countries, which New Delhi has long considered its own backyard, is having a strong pro-China tilt

Photo by Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

NH Web Desk

The One Belt One Road (OBOR) Forum, held in Beijing between May 14 and 15, couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Narendra Modi government as it celebrates its third anniversary on May 26.

Being touted as the biggest global economic undertaking since America’s reconstruction-oriented Marshall Plan in the wake of World War 2, OBOR has been dubbed as the “grandest failure” of Indian foreign policy.

“The moot point remains that we were not able to carry any of the big powers, including the US, and especially our neighbours along on the vital question of Westphalian sovereignty,” former United Progressive Alliance (UPA) minister Manish Tewari wrote in The Indian Express on Tuesday.

Never before has India been so isolated in its own backyard, with our Himalayan neighbour Bhutan being the only notable exception to not to have formally joined OBOR yet. But, that should in no way be a consolation for India as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and even Nepal have openly welcomed the China-backed initiative as good for trade.

“The China-Pakistan axis has isolated India in South Asia besides rendering it lonely in the world,” Ashok Swain, Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Sweden’s Uppsala University, recently wrote in Daily O.

Several media commentators haven’t forgotten India’s diplomatic onslaught against Pakistan last year in the wake of terror attacks on the Indian soil, when the government ministers and allied media had “vowed” to isolate Islamabad internationally over its association with terrorism. Fast forward to May 2017, India is the one who finds itself isolated.

“For three years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been indulging in acts of bravado in foreign policy that he believes, or wants the people of India to believe, are acts of bravery,” Prem Shankar Jha wrote in a scathing article titled ‘Modi’s Beijing policy is like cutting off India’s nose to spite China’s face’.

Blame rising nationalism

Beijing’s critique of the Modi government runs on similar line of thought.

Global Times, the influential newspaper close to China’s ruling Communist Party, commented in an editorial that “rising nationalism” under Modi had made Indians “extremely sensitive on China-related issues.”

“Indian's objection to the B&R is partly a show for domestic politics, partly to pile pressure on China. However, the absence of New Delhi in the B&R has not affected the forum in Beijing, and it will exert even less effect on the progress the initiative will make in the world,” Global Times said.

India’s neighbours gushing over China

Regardless, the mood is pretty upbeat in India’s neighbourhood, with our smaller allies hoping that China could “plug gaps” in infrastructure funding through the Silk Road initiative.

One of India’s closet allies, Bangladesh, which sent a high-level delegation to the Beijing forum is hoping to gain big-time through the Silk Road project.

“OBOR promises to plug some of the gaps in infrastructure financing that developing countries need in Asia. For Bangladesh, the appeal is obvious. The idea of replicating the China experience, even at a much scaled down version, is hardly lost upon anyone. We have taken the first baby steps in setting up of an EPZ (export-processing zone) for Chinese investment,” a column in Dhaka-based The Daily Star read.

Bangladesh may be one of the first beneficiaries of special finance, the article noted.

Sri Lankan media, on the other hand, is predicted that OBOR will be a “money-spinner”. An editorial in Colombo-based Daily Mirror, has even billed OBOR as bigger than the Marshall Plan.

“In some counts, the Marshall Plan fails in comparison, if the full scale of the Chinese ambitions is materialised. The Marshall Plan provided $13 billion assistance ($160 billion in 2016 value) during its four years of operation. Whereas, Credit Suisse in a recent report estimated that as much as $502 billion in infrastructure development assistance would be splashed out in 65 countries during the next five years under China’s Belt and Road initiative,” the Daily Mirror editorial read.

The editorial goes on to say that most of India’s investments in Sri Lanka were more in the nature of “balancing” initiatives.

In India’s Himalayan neighbour, Nepal, the media seems all for OBOR. “China wants Nepal to prosper,” read an editorial in The Himalayan Times, published days ahead of the Beijing conference. The editorial also said, “China always expects each project to ooze benefits for Nepal. There may be some seen and unseen treasures with OBOR too.”

In Pakistan, which possibly sent the largest delegation of all countries to the OBOR Forum, OBOR is being viewed as the last beacon hope for an otherwise embattled economy. The optimism may not be entirely misplaced, as Beijing rewarded Islamabad with $500 million worth of deals for its abiding commitment to the OBOR.

China is already majorly financing the $57-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a major bone of contention that has kept New Delhi’s leadership away from the whole project.

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Published: 16 May 2017, 8:57 PM