Asia’s Rejuvenation Through The BRI
Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
China’s historic Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a grand master plan to achieve global stability and prosperity by transforming Asia into a mega engine of economic growth through trade expansion. It redefines the theory of change emphasising the link between road connectivity and economic, cultural and political empowerment of societies.
In history we can see that clusters of human society linked by pathways have been the basic building blocks of civilisation. These pathways triggered the development of market places, provided opportunities for exchanges, ensured mobility of goods and services, and inspired cultivation of civilised behaviours pushing the frontiers of human knowledge. Even now, the most undeveloped and uncivilised communities of the world are those communities which are living in remote locations, are deprived of access to communications and lack road connectivity.
The BRI, therefore, is not a new concept of triggering economic growth of societies but an attempt to re-invent the success stories of our ancestors to achieve global prosperity, peace and stability through connectivity.
There are attempts to malign BRI as an attempt of China to expand its sphere of influence. Some writers explain it as a revival of perceived glory. Some scholars equate OBOR as Marshall Plan rolled out by the US to help to regenerate the economies of Europe and to hold at bay the expanding wave of communism in the wake of the World War II. There are analysts who even go so far as to say that it is China’s strategy to encircle the world. These are two reflections of conjectural capacity of negative minds without a nugget of truth in it.
In the present day world, there are attempts for expansion of domination by super powers through strategic global plan for controlled development of the world. Following the World War II, initiatives like the Marshal Plan, Molotov Doctrine, Truman’s Doctrine etc. were implemented in the world with an ostensible purpose of safeguarding the humanity from the devastation of wars. But these mega-plans were neither able to free the people from the grip of poverty nor did they contribute to enhance capacity of connectivity among societies by bringing prosperity and stability in the world.
The BRI, however, can be taken as an experimental initiative to use transport connectivity as a conveyance to lead humanity to a next higher stage of global socialisation. After it was first floated by China’s president Xi Jinping in 2013 it has caught the imagination of the people of the world.
Its massive infrastructural vision and the area of its coverage qualify it as a global project, but South Asia and East Asia are its immediate beneficiaries. This becomes clear from the importance attached to it by the governments of the majority nations of the Indian Sub-continent and countries like Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines of the ASEAN block. The importance attached to it by South Asian countries can be judged from the fact that nine out of the ten members of the SAARC countries participated in BRI International Forum organised by China on May 14 and 15, 2017.
In South Asia, Pakistan has emerged as one of the early beneficiaries of this project in terms of BRI investment in its infrastructures. Successful implementation of massive physical infrastructures like Karakorum Highway, Gwaddar seaport and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has suddenly put this country on a trajectory of economic recovery. Similarly, other two countries Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, too, have received huge infrastructural development support under BRI. Sri Lanka was provided $1.4 billion for the construction of Hambantota Port in the Indian Ocean. At a time when the issue of repayment of debt was being politicised by critical media, China has again expressed its willingness to extend another $24 billion to that country.
Bangladesh has also received a handsome amount of money for infrastructural investment in its industrial sector. The gateway of China-Bangladesh Cooperation had flung open when this country signed two different agreements during the BRI International Cooperation Forum in last May. According to sources, China has agreed to invest $24 billion in trade connectivity, power grid, thermal power, modernisation of coal mine and tyre industries in Bangladesh.
The Maldives, the smallest country of South Asia, has also embraced BRI with a view to give impetus to its modernisation by improving its infrastructure capacity. Under the BRI flagship project China has agreed to offer $800 million for upgrading its international airport. After its improvement, it will not only provide momentum to the Island country’s drive to modernisation, it will also ensure and exponential increase of air passengers. With the completion of the airport it will be able to handle A380 planes ensuring a flow of 7.5 million passengers shooting the tourism business to a new qualitative height.
Nepal is a country which is the most immediate beneficiary of the project. After more than six decades of suffocation under Indian stranglehold, Nepal has been experiencing a whiff of fresh air of opportunity blowing from the north. With the signing of the frame-work protocol on OBOR, Nepal has taken an irreversible step towards partnership in the BRI initiative of China.
With its entry into partnership with China on the implementation of RRI South Asia, Nepal has removed the existing hurdles in benefiting China’s investment in its infrastructural needs. Nepal has long been expecting China’s support in building its critical infrastructures and the increase of connectivity. Now, the government of Nepal is rooting for establishing trans-Himalayan railway and road connectivity as an opportunity for leading the country towards prosperity, stability and modernisation.
Nepal has prioritised the Keorong-Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini railway and Rasuwagadhi- Bhichhakhori road connectivity for the purpose of diversifying Nepal’s trade partnership. The expansion of trans-Himalayan power grid, opening of trans-border economic corridor is likely to transform Nepal’s economic paradigms.
Nepal has accepted partnership with BRI although India has opposed it. But it should be understood that Nepal has not joined BRI as countervailing steps to offend India. It is Nepal’s geo-strategic compulsion to go for diversification and trade connectivity. It is not something designed to offend one neighbour for the gratification of another. It is project which is designed to ensure benefit for all the stakeholders at a global level including India.
Research studies have found out that Kathmandu-Rusuwagadhi Highway is the shortest road not only for Nepal but also for India. Anyone with open mind and unburdened conscience can see this. After implementation of the programme, it is likely to act as a bridge between the two giant neighbours. This road is, in fact, a strategic lifeline for the Nepali people, but it can also unleash immense economic potentials for India if it is implemented.