India’s OBOR “debt” propaganda failed at Beijing summit

India’s OBOR “debt” propaganda failed at Beijing summit

By P.K.Balachandran/

After India warned developing countries which joined China’s global One Belt One Road or OBOR project that the scheme would cast an unbearable debt burden on their shoulders, China said India’s propaganda had no takers.

Commenting on the Indian statement, the official Chinese newspaper, Global Times, said that even if India joins the OBOR, it will only be a minor player.

“It is strange that the onlooker is more anxious than the players. While India cares about its neighbours’ debt burden, the neighbours appear willing to take on more,” the newspaper said.

The article further stated that given the active responses from countries along the route, there is no way for India to impede its neighbours from cooperating with China in their infrastructural development.

The article took a swipe at India’s argument that the OBOR questions its sovereignty over Kashmir, saying that Beijing had offered to “go easy” on Kashmir for the sake of economic cooperation and projects like OBOR.

On Mar 13, India’s Ministry of External Affairs said OBOR would cast an unbearable debt burden on its participating countries.

Replying to this charge, by taking the case of Pakistan, Global Times said Pakistan’s repayments in regard to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC will peak around $5 billion only in 2022.

“But this will be offset by transit fees charged in the CPEC,” the newspaper said.

Opting to stay out of the May 14-15 OBOR summit in Beijing, which all its neighbours, barring Bhutan, attended, India said on Sunday: “Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities.”

Japan and Vietnam were among the countries that sent delegations, despite maritime disputes with China. After ranting against China’s alleged currency manipulation, US President Trump sent his Advisor, Matt Pottinger. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar all sent high-level delegations.

Thus India stood alone, objecting to the project on the grounds that it will be financially burdensome and that it nullifies its sovereignty by building the CPEC through Gilgit-Baltistan in Kashmir, which it claims.

Aside from India, all other South Asian countries are eager to use China’s financial, industrial and technical resources to improve their infrastructure and services.

They all know that only China has the money and is willing to loosen its purse strings for them unlike the West, India and Japan. They also know that unlike India, China does not poke its nose into their internal affairs.

Last Saturday, Pakistan signed an MoU with China to develop five big reservoirs as part of the Indus River Cascade or IRC, with the potential to generate 40,000MW of power. The $50 billion MoU on IRC, will supplement the billions poured into the CPEC.

On the same day, Sri Lanka signed a comprehensive framework agreement with China covering a number of projects in agriculture, manufacturing, transportation infrastructure, public works, energy, electricity, information communication, tourism and urban construction.

This is apart from the ongoing Chinese funded $1.4 billion Colombo Port City project and the $1.4 billion Hambantota port development and industrial hinterland project.

Bangladesh and China recently signed 27 deals in addition to existing mega projects like the 1,320MW Payra thermal power plant, a multi-lane tunnel under the Karnaphuli river and a bridge over the Padma river, and the procurement of six vessels.

Map of One Belt One Road scheme

The Maldives will be using Chinese funds and expertise to further develop the Male airport.

The Maldives was the earliest in India’s neighborhood to join the OBOR. That was in 2014.

Bangladesh followed suit in 2016. Sri Lanka became part of OBOR automatically after the construction of the China-funded Hambantota port in 2010. Pakistan too had become a part of it as a result of the construction of the CPEC by the Chinese. Nepal signed up on May 12 this year.

China has actually been eager to get India on board and has virtually pleaded with it to join the OBOR despite hostile statements and anti-China manoeuvring by India in its neighbourhood.

China knows that India is in need of funds and technology to modernise its woefully inadequate infrastructure. The Indian economy today is 13 years behind China and needs to catch up.

China also knows that if it is to find a place to dump its excess financial and industrial capacity, and that with profit, the best destination is India, rather than the small countries with weak economies in the OBOR.

China in fact considers India’s participation as being inevitable no matter what its stand may be at present. Speaking to the Nepalese daily Kathmandu Post Prof Hu Shisheng, director of the Institute of South, South East Asian and Oceanic Studies, pointed out that India is already involved in building international connectivity through the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal Initiative and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation or BIMSTEC.

“Because of this, India will naturally become part of the OBOR initiative whether New Delhi accepts it or not,” Prof Hu reasoned.
Meanwhile, China has enhanced its contribution to the OBOR. It will now be spending $124.5 billion President Xi Jinping said on Sunday.

There will be a fresh input of $14.5 billion into the Silk Road Fund. The China Development Bank and the China Exim Bank will lend $55.1 billion for OBOR projects. It will give $1 billion for South-South cooperation projects; $1 billion to international agencies involved in OBOR projects; and $290 million has been allocated for emergency food relief and $8.7 billion for “civil” projects.

Alas, India will not be a co-recipient of this financial bonanza. An Indian commentator has blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ultranationalistic regime for this.

Commentator Prem Shankar Jha said Modi has transformed India’s relations with China from cooperation to confrontation.

“He has cut off India’s nose to spite China’s face,” Jha said in an article in The Wire.

(The featured image at the top shows world leaders at the OBOR summit in Beijing)