India's stubbornness in staying away from the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is nothing but a continuation of missing out on valuable growth opportunities that are right in front of the South Asian nation.
After having skipped the first Belt and Road Forum (BRF) for International Cooperation in 2017, India was again absent from the second BRF held in Beijing in late April.
India's decision to not join the initiative over sovereignty concerns related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has not affected bilateral trade ties, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency reported on Friday, quoting India's Ambassador to China Vikram Misri.
"We feel that the infrastructure connectivity should be aligned with national priorities," said Misri, who stated with regard to the BRI there are issues related to sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Apparently, New Delhi has yet to clear its mind, burdened with unsubstantiated concerns over its national priorities, and keeps turning a blind eye to a vast variety of BRI-enabled opportunities that matter a lot to India's growth ambitions.
It seems that India has instinctively been on the defensive when it comes to China-funded projects that are envisioned to boost economic growth of its neighboring countries. For instance, India has taken operations of part of Iran's Chabahar Port, located in the Gulf of Oman near the Iran-Pakistan border, as New Delhi banks on its investment in Chabahar to counter the Gwadar Port, which features prominently in the CPEC plan. China's investment in Sri Lanka's Hambantota port and Colombo port under the BRI also makes neighboring India nervous.
These indicate India's deep-rooted skepticism about inclusive growth. Its addiction to feeling insecure and building walls against what it considers "undue" influence in its neighborhood perfectly reveals its narrow-mindedness. Improved infrastructure in its neighboring economies thanks to China-invested projects and the resulting job gains and economic expansion at large will surely rev up regional growth, helping to turn South Asia into one of the mega regions powering global economic growth.
In the case of CPEC, a flagship BRI project, it is estimated to create as many as 700,000 new jobs for Pakistanis by 2030, thenews.com.pk said in a report in January. CPEC projects have so far "provided direct job opportunities to around 75,000 people across the country," according to the report.
The corridor will create over 2 million direct and indirect jobs from 2015-2030 and add 2.5 percentage points to its then GDP growth rate of 5 percent, Pakistan-based news outlet The Nation reported back in October 2016.
As a pivotal nation of Asia, and South Asia in particular, India must realize the importance of Chinese investment in stepping up regional development. It must refrain from habitually regarding neighboring economies as part of its backyard.
On top of that and more importantly, India shouldn't be wasting time on cautioning against the BRI, which can help address key challenges standing in the way of India's growth ambitions.
Socioeconomic inclusion of rural India was identified by the World Economic Forum in an insight report in January as one of the three biggest challenges for the nation's future and the forum called for action to prioritize both physical and digital infrastructure development to remove access barriers constraining the aspirations of India's rural dwellers.
If that is the case, India should jump on the BRI bandwagon as soon as possible to let the initiative, capable of closing infrastructure gaps both physically and digitally, play a part in fixing one of the core problems haunting New Delhi.
The BRI's role in fostering physical connectivity is beyond question. In a fresh sign of the BRI's function as a technological connectivity corridor, Beijing-based artificial intelligence (AI) unicorn SenseTime in late April entered into a strategic collaboration agreement with Malaysia's G3 Global and China Harbour Engineering Co to build the first AI industrial park in Malaysia, a key node in the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road prong of the BRI.
How could India be absorbed in a kind of Sinophobia while the China-proposed initiative is a perfect fit for its development woes?
Inevitably, India's economy will suffer as a consequence of New Delhi's narrow-mindedness, while embracing the BRI will be one of the best remedies for the narrow mind.
The author is a reporter with the Global Times.
- CPEC and opportunities for India 2019-01-29