China May Put Renewed Pressure On India To Join Belt And Road Initiative

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China is likely to further press upon India to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to connect the east Asian country with Eurasia through a network of infrastructure projects, with Bangladesh apparently keen to be a part of President Xi Jinping's ambitious initiative.

China has pledged some US$ 24 billion in various projects in the densely populated country. A Reuters report, quoting a Bangladeshi minister, said that China plans to finance around 25 projects, including a 1,320 megawatt (MW) power plant, and is also keen to build a deep sea port.

The Chinese president impressed upon India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi that by not joining the BRI, New Delhi is missing out an opportunity for economic development. This is especially so because most of India's neighbours in South Asia – Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh – are falling in line with the BRI. According to China's official news agency, Xinhua, Hasina said Dhaka were "…willing to work actively with China within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and support the building of an economic corridor linking Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM), so as to push forward development in various fields such as electricity, energy, technology, agriculture, water resources, investment, transportation infrastructure and connectivity."

Interestingly, the BCIM actually predates Xi's BRI by a few years but has been gradually made part of the broader Belt and Road project – much to the consternation of India. India's lukewarm response to BRI so far has largely been because New Delhi possibly feels that the project will create a vast zone that will be exclusively under China's influence.

Another major concern that India has with the BRI is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and is one of the six economic corridors under Xi's pet project – his idea of a lasting legacy. Despite India repeatedly raising the problem of PoK being a disputed territory, China has gone ahead with construction works for the multi-billion dollar CPEC.

However, China has been pressing India to join the BRI with Chinese experts writing reams on how the big South Asian country is crucial to the project – in the north India can be part of the belt and in the south, part of a maritime road on the Indian Ocean. The BCIM will be in focus as well; it is the corridor that if and when completed will connect China to south Asia by land. A commentary in Xinhua talked about its significance. "Covering 9% of the global landmass, the corridor was first discussed in 1999 by specialists and academics at a meeting in Kunming, Yunnan. The corridor initiative gained momentum during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit to India in May 2013," the commentary said.

"Chinese official data showed that trade between China and member countries of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka – hit US$ 111.22 billion in 2015, up 4.9% from a year before," it said.        

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