New Delhi has marked out a red line on OBOR and it is one that Beijing must learn to respect
The recently concluded Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Qingdao, China, saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi coin yet another acronym to go with the many others he has for both domestic and international audiences. SECURE — or S for security, E for economic development, C for connectivity, U for unity, R for Respect and E for environmental protection — may or may not have been a bit labored but Modi's resounding 'No' to endorsing Beijing's grand One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative was anything but. It was an emphatic and unambiguous articulation of India's deep concern about China playing ducks and drakes on the twin issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity, eliding these issues when it comes to India's concerns while being historically ultra-aggressive when it comes to any questioning of its own claims on disputed territories and its stand on what constitutes interference in its sovereign decision-making sphere.
In reiterating India's stated position on OBOR from a high-profile platform such as the SCO summit, the Prime Minister has also ensured that China will have to accept that arguments about “regional prosperity” and “economic imperative” which Beijing's apologists in India and the region trot out in support of the “inevitability” of the initiative will not pass muster. At least not as long as the Modi Administration is around. In nuancing its opposition to OBOR, New Delhi has done well to decouple the need for greater cooperation within and economic integration of the region and the countries that will be served by OBOR from the issue of each nation's sovereign rights, which has a major implication in the projection of power in the region. After all, if sovereignty is chipped away in the name of future prosperity the existing regional hegemon is only the gainer in geopolitical terms. Support for terrorism and the expansionist designs of certain nations in the region (without naming either Pakistan or China) is also a concern that reflects in New Delhi's opposition to the Chinese-initiated project. In fact, Modi's plenary speech at the SCO laid the ground for the Indian stand when he pointedly said India welcomed connectivity projects which respect sovereignty.
We must, however, be prepared for a pushback from Beijing. The wording of the communique issued after the two-day meet ensured India was clearly identified by omission while lauding the other nations for reiterating support for the OBOR and its implementation and, to underline New Delhi's so-called isolation on an issue of great concern to it, the SCO added that meddling in the affairs of other nations on the “pretext of fighting terror” was not acceptable.There is also pressure being applied on the KP Oli Government in Kathmandu to not be too gung-ho about the India-Nepal connectivity mega project. We are in for interesting times, to say the least, and the lack of domestic agreement on how to deal with a rampant China is a cause for worry.
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