One Belt One Road (OBOR): Why is India Reluctant to Join the Mega Project
In a recent multi-country conference, India reiterated its stance not to join the mega-connectivity project — ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR).
Today, we’ll look at OBOR and why India refuses to be part of this mega project.
What is OBOR?
Conceptualized by the Chinese President Xi Ping, OBOR is an ambitious development and commercial project to improve connectivity among various countries.
It is about building massive infrastructure, mostly around transport and energy — roads, bridges, gas pipelines, railways, and ports. Few fast facts:
- The estimated cost of the program is USD 5 trillion.
- As of March 2020, 138 countries across several continents have joined BRI by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
- The ‘belt’ in the name refers to all the land-related projects. The ‘road’ refers to sea routes that’d need to be established.
- ‘Belt’ is short for the Silk Road Economic Belt. It gets the name after the original Silk trade route established during the Han Dynasty (270–220 BCE). China aims to rebuild the route that will connect the country with the rest of Asia, Africa, and Europe.
What’s in it for China and participating countries?
Well, for China, it gets to bump its economic activity and create new markets for exports. It will also help China to connect its less developed regions to other countries. Experts also believe that there are geopolitical motivations behind the project as China will gain influence with the participating countries.
For other countries, especially the less developed regions in Asia, the project will provide tons of immediate employment opportunities. It will also enable the countries to boost their trade and thus improve its economy. For example:
- Brunei has abundant gas and oil resources, but the country lacks the material for producing oil and gas pipelines to export.
Also, Chinese banks are looking to fund these infrastructure projects in poorer countries by giving them low-cost loans.
Why is India reluctant to join?
India is the only South-Asian country that has not joined the initiative. One of the OBOR projects — the China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK). India believes that POK is, in fact, India’s territory, and Pakistan is illegally occupying it. Getting on board for OBOR would be seen as conceding ground to Pakistan.
India has also quoted the lack of transparency as one of the reasons. Specifically, when it comes to projects that China is investing in and conditions of the loans given by Beijing. This has a lot to do with ‘debt-trap diplomacy’:
- It occurs when a powerful country provides loans to poorer countries that can’t be repaid. When this happens, the lending country can demand concessions or advantages in exchange for debt relief.
- For example, Sri Lanka was forced to hand over control of the Hambantota port for 99 years to China after it could not repay the debt to Beijing.
Even though the door is open for India to join OBOR, it looks like India’s stance is pretty firm at this point.