Sub theme 2

China’s Belt and Road Initiative
 
The Silk Road evokes a romantic image of camel caravans traversing their way across desolated deserts and mountains of Arabia and Central Asia. Stories - half history, half myth – of caravans treading thousands of miles across the continents and ships laden with precious cargos weathering extreme climatic conditions to reach their final destinations, are not just stories of the past; it is an integral part of China’s current foreign policy. China wants to evoke the romanticism of ancient contacts by integrating Eurasian economies under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Whilst the historical Silk Road was merely a connector for trade and cultural exchanges with little or no political significance, the New Silk Road with its maritime tentacles is an overt expression of China’s ambitions.

The Maritime Silk Road (MSR) which is an integral part of BRI, envisages massive investments in maritime infrastructure in the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific. Although projected purely in terms of commercial venture, the MSR is seen by many experts as a part of China’s grand strategy to expand its sphere of influence and to disguise its build-up of naval capabilities in the region. In addition, China is pumping millions of Dollars, in infrastructure projects as an incentive to developing maritime countries in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) which are mostly seen as efforts to get strong foothold on strategic locations. These actions have an impact on India’s strategic and security interests in the region. Further, these initiatives, when seen in the backdrop of increasing presence of Chinese warships in the IOR, could be construed as a potential threat to the freedom of navigation and security of sea lines of communication. PLA Navy’s ambitious modernization plans under President Xi Jinping - who now has a virtual lifetime tenure under his belt - and China’s instigating territorial and maritime contestations with several of its neighbours, is bound to have far reaching consequences on geopolitics of the region. One might ponder, how India with its existing naval might would deter China in case of conflict of interests between the two while concurrently pursuing her maritime mandate. Conversely, another School of thought argue that India with its soft power, geographical position and its proximity to many of the choke points in the region could leverage from MSR.

As a testimony to the adage that trade follows the flag, today China is expanding its sphere of influence through means of trade. Hence the ‘Geopolitical impact of the BRI’ especially in the context of the IOR, its repercussions on India’s maritime prowess and India’s response strategy needs to be studied in detail.