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Five years on, the BRI is still being perceived as a Debt Trap

M Waqas Jan

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Five years since President Xi Jinping laid out his grand vision for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the implications of China’s economic supremacy have brought about marked questions over the impacts of its rise as a potential global superpower. These questions apply particularly to whether China, based on its present trajectory, may soon supplant the US’s hold over the International System as it increasingly comes to challenge it.

China has gone to great lengths to distance itself from the US, in terms of its approach towards International Politics. A key cornerstone of its foreign policy has always been based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other States. This has often been presented as a direct anti-thesis to the long history of US led interventions witnessed across the Middle East, Latin America and key regions in Asia. Within the Post-Cold War scenario, China’s insistence on non-interference in the internal affairs of states, and greater inclusivity within the international system have served as a rallying cry against what many have termed as US Imperialism and unilateralism.

However, the many intricacies of China’s newfound ability to project power overseas have brought with them their own set of challenges in direct contradiction to the above principles. Powered by its massive economy, China’s investments under the BRI spanning across Europe, Africa, The Persian Gulf, and large swathes of Asia, have caused feverish speculation, amongst both proponents and critics alike, as to the true motives behind its financial largesse. China has repeatedly justified its investments in under-developed countries as part of its vision for global economic development. Yet, in whatever way China has maneuvered to ensure that these investments remain secure and true to their objectives, it has had to continuously ward off the perception that it is laying the foundations of a new form of imperialism of its own.

Particularly with respect to the BRI, these perceptions of Chinese Imperialism are rooted in what numerous analysts have termed as China’s ‘Debt Trap Diplomacy.’ Citing the cases of the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka, the Bar-Boljare highway in Montenegro and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan, a growing number of critics have pointed out that, these projects while being funded through highly attractive and concessional loans from China are leading to unsustainable levels of debt for these countries. It is argued that with mounting debt in the guise of BRI funding, these countries would likely be reduced to being mere client states, with their sovereignty firmly in the grasp of Chinese creditors.

This issue of Chinese Debt was once again brought forcefully into the international spotlight, owing to a dramatic shift in Malaysia’s foreign policy towards China. The newly elected government under Mahathir Mohammad recently cancelled a series of large investment projects that were being implemented under the BRI framework. These comprised of the $20 billion East Coast Rail Link as well as two natural gas pipelines worth $2.3 billion. All of these projects were deemed as unaffordable by the new government based on the ensuing debt that would have followed.

Speaking at a press conference in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Prime Minister Mahathir stated clearly that he did not want a situation where there was a new version of colonialism based on unequal relations. His entire visit to China last week was geared towards delicately balancing Malaysian interests with respect to China’s sustained push towards realizing its BRI ambitions. He went at great lengths to lay the blame on his predecessor’s mismanagement of the economy, claiming he was confident that China would appreciate Malaysia’s present fiscal constraints, and its inability to afford such projects at this time.

It is worth noting that during the run-up to the Malaysian elections, Mr. Mahathir had centered his election campaign on calling for greater oversight over Chinese funding. This was based under widespread allegations of corruption regarding the mismanagement of BRI project funds under his predecessor Mr. Najib Razzak. Partisan politics aside, Mr. Mahathir’s statements bear a striking resemblance to the election rhetoric of another newly elected leader in yet another key BRI partner country.

On the other side of the Indian Ocean, the newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Imran Khan too had campaigned for greater oversight over the management of BRI funds under the massive China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). These were part of a series of allegations leveled against his predecessor, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who also is accused of widespread corruption and mismanagement of the economy. Pakistan’s rampant debt crisis has been attributed in part to Mr. Sharif’s mismanagement. Since assuming power Mr. Imran Khan has been delicately balancing increasing calls for greater transparency and oversight over CPEC projects, all while ensuring that the bonhomie between Pakistan and China remains intact.

The parallels between Prime Ministers Imran Khan and Mahathir Mohammad present a highly interesting comparison, specifically within the context laid out earlier in this discussion. Both politicians have more or less defined their political identity as being staunchly against the last few decades’ US imperialism. Both came in to power on a surging wave of populism, on the promise of fighting corruption and providing better oversight over the economic direction of their countries. Both while being initially skeptical of Chinese investments were quick to acknowledge and provide a reaffirmation of China’s role in National development. Mr. Khan’s direct appreciation of Chinese assistance in his speeches as well as his tweets in Chinese, directly point towards his attempts at alleviating Chinese suspicions regarding his commitment to the BRI. Mr. Mahathir’s visit to Beijing, as one of his first overseas visits as Malaysia’s newly elected Prime Minister, also present a similar story. By positively engaging with China immediately after assuming office, both leaders have attempted to directly address any misperceptions that may have arisen from their pre-election rhetoric.

Both leaders however, while whole-heartedly welcoming Chinese assistance have also taken a much more measured response in terms of ensuring that their own countries’ interests achieve precedence. Looming debt and the maintenance of sovereignty still remain at the forefront of their political agenda, regardless of the commitments made by past governments. That is still the crux of the message being delivered to China by both countries.

Speaking at a seminar, marking the Five Year Anniversary of the Belt & Road initiative in Beijing earlier this week, President XI Jinping was clear in asserting that the BRI was geared more towards economic cooperation as opposed to a geo-political or security alliance. He re-emphasized the openness and exclusivity of the BRI and dismissed allusions to the formation of a ‘China Club’, in a direct riposte to the BRI’s critics. While his speech shows that there is a growing acknowledgement of such challenges amidst China’s top leadership, there are still certain issues that need to be addressed more directly. No matter how much China depoliticizes the BRI at the international level, the stark reality of debt repayments still remains as the most pervasive issue for its partner countries. This holds true even for staunch allies such as Malaysia and Pakistan.

Taking into consideration its experience over the past five years, China should take a long hard look at how to decouple its Belt and Road Initiative from being perceived as a ‘Debt Trap’. While the BRI’s critics have been quick to equate this aspect as a key characteristic of growing Chinese Imperialism, its proponents are still facing difficulty in financially justifying the grand scale of the BRI to their impoverished constituencies.

If China is to truly chart a more inclusive path to global leadership via the BRI, it must let its diplomatic goodwill take precedence over the economic reality of being a creditor to it indebted allies. If not, it would likely lose its ability to stand in contrast to what itself refers to as the US’s imperialist hold over international politics; all, in spite of China’s strict adherence to its long cherished principles of ‘non-interference’, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its allies.

Research Associate and Program Coordinator for the China Study & Information Centre (CS & IC) at the Strategic Vision Institute, a non-partisan think tank based out of Islamabad. He can be reached at waqas[at]thesvi.org

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Wolf warriors: A brand new force of Chinese diplomats

Abdul Rasool Syed

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China has made a tectonic shift to its decades old foreign policy. It has, under the caption of “Wolf Warrior diplomacy”, adopted a brand new modus operandi to deal with the foreign world which is hawkish, aggressive, and exceedingly offensive. It is diametrically opposed to almost all diplomatic niceties once pursued and fostered by Chinese political forefathers in their dealings with external world.

There was a time in China when the foreign ministry was deemed so spineless, constantly flattering foreign countries, that an anonymous critic sent some calcium tablets for the diplomats. A memo was attached telling them to “strengthen their bones,” a Chinese diplomatic source reveals. Not today. China’s hard line and highhanded “wolf warrior diplomacy” has captured the attention of observers both at home and abroad.

Repercussions of this paradigm shift in Chinese way of conducting its foreign affairs may not be as fruitful as expected by Bejing. However, it might pave the way for its antagonists to exploit the situation and thereby coalesce and collude to counter Chinese attempts, prejudicial to their respective interests, by forming an impregnable synergy.

“Wolf Warrior” is actually the title of a hugely-successful blockbuster series of patriotic action films in China, featuring Rambo-like protagonists who fight enemies at home and abroad to defend Chinese interests. The first film was released in 2015 and made more than $ 76 million (545 million yuan) at the box office.

It quickly spawned a sequel that became China’s highest money minting movie at the time when it was released in 2017. “Wolf Warrior 2″‘ was based around a squad of People’s Liberation Army soldiers sent into an African country to rescue Chinese civilians. The film’s tagline was, “Even though a thousand miles away, whoever offends China will be punished. At the end of the film, the red cover of a Chinese passport is displayed, accompanied by the message: Citizens of the PRC: When you encounter danger in a foreign land, do not give up! Please remember, at your back stands a strong motherland.

 As mentioned earlier, wolf warrior statecraft is an absolute antithesis of the type of diplomacy that China had been practicing for decades: that of keeping a low profile and working behind the scenes. This principle was enshrined in the 1980s by then-leader Deng Xiaoping, who said: “Hide your strength, bide your time, never take the lead.”

Nowadays, Bejing stands as the center of foreign criticism exclusively of xenophobic remarks due to corona virus pandemic, as countries—particularly the US- increasingly view it as soley  responsible for the spread of deadly pathogen. Moreover, China’s mass oppression of Uighurs, and suspicion of Huawei’s 5G infrastructure have also been prime sources of tension.

In this milieu of scathing stricture, the wolf warrior’s counterblasts are helping china a lot to assert its narrative abroad as well as rebut efforts made by its adversaries to weaken her stance on international forums. Recent events vividly suggest that Whenever any statement aimed at tarnishing the image of China comes, the wolf warriors quickly  resort to their social media handles( twitter, whatsapp, instagram)  and leave no stone unturned to hit it back by floating the counter arguments.

Two prominent proponents of wolf warrior diplomacy are Hua Chunying and Zhao Lijian, top spokesmen at China’s Foreign Ministry. In recent months, they have launched unfounded conspiracy theories and sneered at countries over their reactions to crises like the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.

In March, as tensions between the US and China continued to mount over the origins of COVID-19, Zhao tweeted a conspiracy theory. He said: “it might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.” (Twitter later put a fact check tag on that tweet). And as Black Lives Matter protests swept the US, Hua also ramped up her attack on American leadership.

In late May, Hua responded to the US State Department’s support for Hong Kong protesters by tweeting: “I can’t breathe” — an attempt to divert US criticism of China to crises on American soil.

And in June, shortly after President Donald Trump signed a bill to sanction China over its oppression of Uighur Muslims, Hua tweeted: “The US should enact an African American Human Rights Policy Act instead.”

However, Chinese Wolf warrior diplomacy is not restricted only to America other countries are also not immune to this malicious style of diplomacy. One such example was seen in April, as France’s coronavirus cases were skyrocketing, China’s embassy in Paris published an article alleging that nursing staff at French retirement homes had “abandoned their posts overnight, deserted collectively, leaving their pensioners to die of hunger and illness”. The claim was inflammatory and groundless. China latter, issued a rebuttal saying that it was based on a misunderstanding and deleted the post from the embassy’s site.

Additionally, An earlier wolf warrior move was witnessed in January 2019, when China’s ambassador to Canada  accused the country of  “White supremacy “ over its detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested over claims that she violated US sanctions on Iran.

Inter alia, this wolf Warrior diplomacy is, without iota of any doubt, is getting approval and patronage in Bejing.

Zhao’s history of attacking the US on social media — which once prompted former National Security Advisor Susan Rice to call him a ” racist disgrace” — earned him a rapid promotion from China’s deputy chief of mission in Pakistan to deputy director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s information arm in Beijing late last year.

Chinese President Xi Jinping even hand-wrote a memo to diplomats last year telling them to show more “fighting spirit,”  Reuters reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.

Moreover, Chinese foreign Ministry told Reuters in March. “We will not attack unless we are attacked, but if we are attacked, we will certainly counterattack.”

Wolf warrior diplomacy is also aimed at scoring political points and stoke patriotism among its own citizens — both those living at home and abroad. While commenting on Chinese wolf warrior diplomacy Allen Carlson, director of Cornell University’s China and Asia Pacific Studies program said: “China has more power on the world stage than at any point before in its modern history. Xi is now experimenting with how to make use of such expanded capabilities.”At the same time … he has also created expectations within China that the country is already well along the path to national rejuvenation.”

Moreover, Carlson said: the Communist Party is “appealing to nationalists within China, whose views of the world have been framed by decades of state emphasis on patriotism and nationalism, and, who have come to expect, even demand, that their country do more to stand up to perceived  insults.”

Here, the question arises whether the Chinese new diplomatic approach for reaching out to world is paying her dividends or not; apparently, the concomitant events suggest vice-versa.  This new ambassadorial strategy adopted by china is uniting China’s allies against it, rather than scaring them off.

In this regard, a recent report noted that the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US – are drawing even closer together in their own effort to block China. That report follows another, published in 2018 that noted that Germany, Japan and France were also being inducted into a loose coalition against China.

It also appears that other coalitions, albeit comprising most of the same countries, are working in other ways to balance China. In the wake of China’s ban on Australian barley, for example, Australia entered into an agreement with India to sell its barley there. Another outcome of the negotiations held between Prime Ministers Modi and Morrison was that both countries would provide greater access to each other’s military bases. That would eventually allow for greater interoperability between them and military exercises in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Since India and Australia individually have joint exercises with the US, it is a logical step for them to have joint exercises as well. That would appear to indicate, again, a greater integration of the Quad coalition members – Australia, India, Japan and the US.

The US is, simultaneously, ratcheting up the pressure against China, flying sorties over Taiwan, forcing a Taiwanese integrated circuit fabrication plant to terminate sales of computer chips to Huawei , etc. In addition, Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary-General, meanwhile has warned against China’s increasing footprint in and the threat that it poses to Europe. In  US itself, apart from the various tariffs that he imposed on goods manufactured in China, President Trump is now targeting the export of expertise to China. He has restricted the entry of Chinese graduate students in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics, if they are believed to have any ties to the Chinese Communist Party, into the US. He has, furthermore, intensified investigations into American scientists and academics that are believed to assist Chinese research efforts.

 To cap it all, China’s aggressive diplomatic posture has, so far been a disaster for country’s international image. It should, therefore, revisit her foreign policy and espouse smart power tactics of diplomacy to win over friends and to keep away the foes…

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The implementation of the BRI project at sea: South Maritime and Arctic Silk Roads

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In 2013, China started to launch a global system of transport corridors that should connect China with the entire world – the countries of Central Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Oceania. Within the Framework of the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), it was planned to build roads and railways, open sea and air passages, lay pipelines and power lines. Thus, China decided to involve 4.4 billion people – more than half of the world’s current population – in its orbit of influence through the new geopolitical initiative.

Launching BRI land corridors, the PRC created an additional branches of the project – the “Maritime Silk Road of the XXI century” (MSR) and the “Polar (Arctic) Silk Road”. On March 29, 2014, in Nanyang city (Southeast Asia) was hosted a Symposium of East Asian States, dedicated to building the community of China and the ASEAN countries and implementing the regional “MSR project in the XXI century”, proposed by the Chinese President in October 2013 at the Council of people’s representatives of Indonesia and during the 16th China – ASEAN summitin Brunei.

The initiative to create alternative routes was not proposed by chance, since they all have a clear focus:the main land BRI corridors (“New Eurasian Land Bridge”;“China – Mongolia – Russia Corridor”;“China – Central Asia – West Asia Corridor”;“China – Indochina Peninsula Corridor”;“China – Pakistan Corridor”;“Bangladesh – China – India – Myanmar Corridor” (see Figure 1)) are generally aimed at Central and Western Asia, Central, Eastern and Western Europe, and the “Maritime Silk Road” – to South – East Asia and Africa, “Polar Silk Road”potentially covers northern part of the BRI, connecting China with Europe.Thus, China’s “One Belt, One Road” strategy is aimed to improve China’s diplomacy with countries all across the world.BRI blueprint encompasses over 60 countries, which account for 60% of the world’s population and a collective GDP equivalent to 33% of the world’s wealth. It focuses on connectivity and partnerships with neighbouring countries and builds upon existing multilateral mechanisms.

The “MSR”, as well as the land corridors, were planned along an ancient trade route: from Guangzhou in China along the coasts of Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, past to the Red sea (with branchesto the Persian Gulf and Africa), through the Suez canal in the Mediterranean. Before the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, the Chinese considered Crimea as a separate entry point to Europe – a deep-water port was planned to be built in the Western part of the Peninsula. In addition, Russia and China discussed another route – the Arctic one: it was mentioned about the possible inclusion of the Northern sea route development project (NSR) into the BRI strategy.

fig.1

China currently does not have access to the Arctic ocean. Thus, with no physical access to the Arctic, Chinese strategists have long been concerned about the country’s chances of becoming an Arctic power.

In June 2017, the state Committee for development and reform and the State Oceanographic administration of China named the Arctic as one of the directions of the “One belt, One road” project. The “Concept of cooperation at sea within the framework of the BRI”refers to the need to involve Chinese companies in the commercial use of Arctic transport routes.

Soon after Russia has signed a Memorandum of understanding with the Chinese Oceanographic authority, aimed at expanding international cooperation in the field of Arctic and Antarctic researches. The same documents were signed with China by Norway, the United States, Germany, Chile and Argentina.

There are three potential routes across the Arctic: the Northeast passage around Eurasia, the Northwest passage around North America and the Central Arctic ocean route. For China, they offer a shorter and cheaper alternative to current shipping routes, which reach major markets in Europe via the Indian ocean and the Suez canal.

In practice, Yong Sheng, owned by COSCO Shipping, was the first Chinese cargo ship to master the Northern sea route (Northeast passage) in 2013. After a trial voyage, the Chinese carrier COSCO showed interest in further using this project. However, analysts expressed doubts about its profitability. The main problems were that when traveling along the Northern sea route, ships of lower cargo capacity have to be used, the route is seasonal, and the travel conditions are extreme.

In the summer of 2017, another six Chinese vessels took this route. In September, the Chinese research vessel Xue Long made its first Northwest passage voyage along the Northern coast of Canada, reducing the travel time from New – York to Shanghai by seven days compared to the route through the Panama canal.

It should be borne in mind that China’s position is quite convenient in geopolitical terms : it is one of the observer States of the Arctic Council. In total, there are eight countries in the region (Canada, the United States, Denmark, which has access to the Arctic via Greenland, Norway, Russia, Iceland, Sweden and Finland) and 13 other countries that do not have access to the Arctic, but whose using the function of monitoring the relations of the countries in the region. Thus, China is actively using its status with the development of the Arctic programme.

fig.2

It should be empathized that Beijing’s position on the development of the Arctic route supports the view that both routes contain potentially very profitable transit points that can shorten the path between Asia and Europe, not to mention between Asia and parts of North America.

In January 2018, the state Council of China published the first “White paper on China’s Arctic policy”, which states that Beijing is interested party in Arctic Affairs. It was noted that China intends to create,jointly with other States, the sea trade routes in the Arctic region within the framework of the “Polar Silk Road initiative”. Thus, it was decided that the Polar Silk Road will be part of the broader Chinese “Belt and Road” program, creating sea trade routes and strengthening trade relations with different countries in the region.

Due to the fact that other Trans – Eurasian sea transportations may be extremely unstable in the long term, especially in terms of security, the Chinese authorities have shown interest in the Northern, alternative sea route.

Analyzing the logistics of the existing route through the Suez canal and the Mediterranean sea, even taking into account the planned expansion, it is easy to see that it is already overloaded. Secondly, the middle East is still azone of instabilityand its infrastructure requires large financial investments.

Another potential route, through Central America – the Panama or Nicaraguan canal – is also not entirely rational in terms of reconstruction and big amount of investments. It makes sense to use it for Asian – American trade, which is also planned to be improved in terms of logistics and infrastructure.

Based on this, it can be noted that the two remaining Polar routes have begun to arouse real strategic and long-term interest on the Chinese side(see Figure 2).

The first of these routes is the American Northwest corridor (Northwest passage), first passed by water byRoald Amundsenat the beginning of the last century, but it also retains certain problems. First of all – with Canada, which believes that the Northwest Passage passes through its territorial (internal) waters. The second problem is the US position: the country’s authorities do not want to have a trade highway under the control of such strategic competitor as China.

The second alternative is the Northern sea route, which runs North of the Russian Federation (see Figure 3). Due to China’s increasing interest in developing the logistics of the Northern route, the Russian government has set a high bar for a large-scale Arctic project running along the coast of the new sea route, which is becoming more accessible to navigation as a result of climate warming and ice melting. The head of state outlined a large-scale task: to reach the level of 80 million tons per year by 2025.

In addition to the development of the construction of a new port in Russia’s Arkhangelsk (the capital of the region on the White sea is one of cities in the Far North), construction of a new port and a railway line has begun, which should connect with one of the branches of the Chinese BRI.

fig.3

Thus, it can be noted that today the Arctic opens up new prospects for trade between Europe and Asia. The North, which has huge reserves of hydrocarbons, is of interest not only to Western countries, but also to China. The use of sea routes and natural resources in the Arctic can have a huge impact on the energy strategy and economic development of China, which is one of the world’s leaders in foreign trade and is the largest consumer of energy in the world. For example, the Northern sea route will allow China to deliver cargo to Europe by sea faster than the 48 days (that it takes on average) to travel from the Northern ports of China to Rotterdam via the Suez canal. Last year, the Russian Arcticgas tanker “Christophe de Margerie” reached South Koreafrom Norway without an icebreaker escort, and the journey took only 15 days.

Thus, the Northern sea route will allow China to deliver cargo to Europe faster by sea, reduce the route by 20 – 30%, and save on fuel and human resources. Given that 90% of Chinese goods are delivered by sea, the development of the Arctic silk road promises Beijing serious savings and profit growth .

In addition to gaining possible economic advantages, China hopes to increase its energy securitythrough Arctic trade routes. Currently, most of the fuel imported by the Asian giant crosses the Strait of Malacca, which connects the Indian ocean with the South China sea.

Thus, it can be traced that China is interested in Arctics Arctic natural resources. This region contains a fifth of the Earth’s natural resources. However, even if this is the case, China’s interest in Arctic underground storerooms is rather long-term and the calculation is made for the remote future. The problem is that China is still dependent on foreign technologies for offshore drilling, even in the warm seas surrounding it. Technologies for extracting natural resources in Arctic waters are much more complex, and China does not have enough sufficient experience in this area.

Also, analysing the logistics of BRI routes, it can be seen why China is getting more interested in developing alternative North corridors :

The transport routes of the “Silk Road Economic Belt” project cross the Eurasian continent in the middle, the route of the “MSR of the XXI century” project runs along the South and there is no Northern water route yet. The main value of the Arctic sea route is that the regions through which it passes are relatively calm and stable. It should be noted that the “Economic Belt” crosses many countries with high conflict and crisis potential (Central Asia, Middle East, East Europe). The “MSR of the XXI century” runs through the South China sea, South – East Asia, and the Indian ocean  – the region which has similar problems. Also in terms of infrastructure development these roads may cause certain risks, connected with big number of participants, different level of infrastructure capacities of countries and different legislative obstacles. Thus, the Northern route may act as a more stable alternative that it can become a serious incentive that will contribute to the Eurasian economic integration.

The economic component of Arctic direction of the BRI is no less important. The Chinese expert reminded that the routes through The Northwest passage and the Northern sea route would save Chinese companies time and money on their way to Western countries. Taking into account the melting of ice in the Arctic ocean, the Northern sea route can become an alternative to the main transcontinental route that runs through the southern seas of Eurasia and further to Africa via Suez canal. Thus, the passage of a cargo ship from Shanghai to Hamburg along the North sea route is 2.8 thousand miles shorter than the route through Suez canal.

The modern logistics projects such as “Arctic Silk road” and“MSR of the XXI century” connect China with other countries of South – East Asia, the Middle East, East Africa and some EU countries through sea trade routes, such as such in the Red sea. Thus, it can seen that three new transport corridors will connect Europe with the Russian Federation, Central Asia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand. Analysing “MSR” logistics it becomes clear that the project is designed to connect three continents into a single transport system: Europe, Asia and Africa. It is no secret that many of these countries have a lot of political differences, but the benefits that the implementation of this large-scale project promises can make them forget about old claims to each other.

One of the long-term prospects for the development of the BRI project is the creation of free trade zones with countries participating in the initiative. The result of such multi-countries collaboration may be the emergence of a large-scale free trade zone from the North – Western provinces of China, Central Asia, to Europe and Africa. About three billion people live on the project’s path. In this case, we are talking about the “mega – market”, and, of course, about the “mega – potential”.

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Ladakh: Uneasy subsurface calm prevails

Amjed Jaaved

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On July 9, 2020, Chinese foreign-office  spokesperson Zhao Lijian, at the press conference indicated that disengagement of rival troops was taking place smoothly. He revealed, ` The overall situation at the China-India boundary is stable and ameliorating. The two sides will continue to maintain dialogue and communication through military and diplomatic channels, including holding a new round of commander-level talks and the meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on China-India Border Affairs. We hope India will work with China towards the same goal to implement consensus reached between the two sides with concrete actions and jointly de-escalate tensions in the border region’.

But it is significant to note that no joint statement was issued following Wang-Doval telephonic conversation that led to disengagement. The two countries issued separate statements. The Chinese statement omitted the word Line of Actual control. The Hindu  dated July 6, 2020 reported `No mention of LAC: China’s statement did not mention the LAC, let alone respecting it’.  

Be it noted that shortly after peace restoration statements, India’s defence minister announced that the Border Roads Organisation would continue its work unabated, as planned. The gory brawl between rival troops was instigated by the Indian infrastructural works close to overlapping Chinese territory. It appears bone of contention remains intact.

The post-Galwan Indian external-affairs ministry’s statement reflects that LAC and status quo shall be abided by. In the past also similar statements have been made by India. For instance, India’s external-affairs spokesman Anurag Srivastava said at press conference on June 25, 2020 `Respecting and strictly observing the Line of Actual Control is the basis for peace and tranquility in the border areas and explicitly recognized so in the 1993 and subsequent agreements. Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the LAC in all sectors of the India-China border areas and abide scrupulously by it (The Hindu dated June 25, 2020).

China and India have divergent perceptions of the LAC. 

Who violated the LAC? It is India, not China that altered LAC by annexing Ladakh, a part of disputed Jammu and Kashmir State. Flanked by Pakistan’s prime minister, before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, (April 28, 2019), China’s President Xi Jinping had stressed they opposed India’s “unilateral actions” in Kashmir and called for a dialogue (Indian express September 10, 2019).

Where does the LAC lie on India-China border? India-China border is divided into three sectors, where the LAC in the western sector falls in the union territory of Ladakh and is 1597 km long, the middle sector of 545 km length falls in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, and 1346 km long eastern sector falls in the states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. The middle sector is the least disputed sector, while the western sector witnesses the highest transgressions between the two sides.

How is the LAC different from the Line of Control with Pakistan? One could peek into Indian mind through books such as Shivshankar Menon’s Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, Shyam Saran’s How India Sees the World,  and A G Noorani’s India-China Boundary Problem 1846-1947.

It is a common misperception that LAC is more sacrosanct than the LoC. For instance, India’s prestigious Indian Express explained `The LoC emerged from the 1948 ceasefire line negotiated by the UN after the Kashmir War. It was designated as the LoC in 1972, following the Shimla Agreement between the two countries. It is delineated on a map signed by DGMOs of both armies and has the international sanctity of a legal agreement. The LAC, in contrast, is only a concept – it is not agreed upon by the two countries, neither delineated on a map nor demarcated on the ground. 

The newspaper poses question `what was India’s response to China’s designation of the LAC?’. It then explains India rejected the concept of LAC in both 1959 and 1962. Even during the war, Nehru was unequivocal: “There is no sense or meaning in the Chinese offer to withdraw twenty kilometres from what they call ‘line of actual control… In July 1954, Nehru issued a directive that “all our old maps dealing with this frontier should be carefully examined and, where necessary, withdrawn. New maps should be printed showing our Northern and North Eastern frontier without any reference to any ‘line’. The new maps should also be sent to our embassies abroad and should be introduced to the public generally and be used in our schools, colleges, etc”. This map, as is officially used till date, formed the basis of dealings with China, eventually leading to the 1962 War’ (Indian Express, June 6, 2020, Line of Actual Control: Where it is located and where India and China differ).

There are genuine differences on border `perception’ that intermittently lead to face-offs. India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long, while the Chinese consider it to be only around 2,000 km.

Shyam Saran discloses that the LAC was discussed during Chinese Premier Li Peng’s 1991 visit to India, where PM P V Narasimha Rao and Li reached an understanding to maintain peace and tranquillity at the LAC. India formally accepted the concept of the LAC when Rao paid a return visit to Beijing in 1993 and the two sides signed the Agreement to Maintain Peace and Tranquillity at the LAC.

The reference to the LAC was unqualified to make it clear that it was not referring to the LAC of 1959 or 1962 but to the LAC at the time when the agreement was signed. To reconcile the differences about some areas, the two countries agreed that the Joint Working Group on the border issue would take up the task of clarifying the alignment of the LAC.

Status Quo: Resolution of border disputes with China is intertwined with resolution of the Kashmir dispute. That is why China avoided mentioning the `LAC’. How could China settle boundary dispute with India when Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed state.

One may ask how China settled its boundary dispute with Pakistan. How come Pakistan gifted of part of disputed state’s territory to China (Aksai Chin)?

The factual position is that Pakistan ceded no territory to China. A. G. Noorani points out, `Two myths predominate: India’s two adversaries ganged together to cut a deal on the border and Pakistan gifted China with large chunks of territory. In truth, China was most reluctant to accept Pakistan’s proposal and responded only belatedly. It got no territory. Instead, it was Pakistan which secured from China 750 square miles of administered territory (A. G. Noorani, Facing the truth, JUNE 5, 2020, frontline, Print edition : October 06, 2006).

Aside from India’s atoot ang mantra (integral-part iteration), China and Pakistan regard Ladakh as part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir State.

India does not respect any LAC/LOC or status quo: At heart, Nehru did not care a fig for the Sino-Indian LAC, India-Pakistan LOC, disputed state’s constituent assembly, UN’s resolutions about plebiscite, or the Indian parliament.

This truth is interspersed in Avtar Singh Bhasin’s 10-volume documentary study (2012) of India-Pakistan Relations 1947-2007.  It contains 3649 official documents, accessed from archives of India’s external-affairs ministry. Despite effort for over a year, Bhasin was denied access to coveted Nehru Papers. But, in 2014, Bhasin was able to get permission from India’s Department of Culture to access them.

These papers gave new perspectives on Nehru’s vacillating state of mind concerning the Kashmir dispute.

In his 2018 book (published after six years of his earlier work), India, Pakistan: Neighbours at Odds (Bloomsbury India, New Delhi, 2018), Bhasin discusses Nehru’s perfidy on Kashmir in Chapter 5 titled Kashmir, India’s Constitution and Nehru’s Vacillation(pages 51-64). The book is based on Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru and author’s own compendium of documents on India-Pak relations. Let us lay bare a few of Nehru’s somersaults.

Kashmir assembly’s `accession’ disowned, Security Council owned: Nehru banked on so-called Instrument of Accession and its authentication by `Constituent Assembly’. Nehru unmasked his brazen volte face in a letter dated October 31, 1947, addressed to the disputed state’s prime minister, on the fourth day of `signing’ of the mythical accession instrument by maharajha on October 26, 1947. It was `counter-signed’ by Lord Mountbatten on October 27, 1947.  The letter says `after consideration of the problem, we are inclined to think that it [plebiscite] should be held under United Nations’ auspices (p. 28 ibid.).

He reiterated in New Delhi on November3, 1951 that `we have made it perfectly clear before the Security Council that the Kashmir Constituent Assembly does not [insofar] as we are concerned come in the way of a decision by the Security Council, or the United Nations’(SWJ: Volume 4: page 292, Bhasin p.228). Again, at a press conference on June 11, 1951, he was asked `if the proposed constituent assembly of Kashmir “decides in favour of acceding to Pakistan, what will be the position?”’ he reiterated,  `We have made it perfectly clear that the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir was not meant to decide finally any such question , and it is not in the way of any decision which may ultimate flow from the Security Council proceedings’ (SWJ: Volume 15:, Part II, page 394. Bhasin page 56). He re-emphasised his view once again at a press conference in New Delhi on November 3, 1951. He said `we have made it perfectly clear before the Security Council that the Kashmir Constituent Assembly does not [insofar as] we are concerned come in the way of a decision by the Security Council or the United Nations’.

 Security Council disowned as just a non-binding mediator: Bhasin points out that `there was a perceptible shift in his [Nehru’s] stand on July 24 1952` about the future of the State _ if the decision of the Security Council was at variance with that of the Constituent Assembly’. Nehru said, `Unless the Security Council functioned under some other Sections of the Charter, it cannot take a decision which is binding upon us unless we agree to it. They are functioning as mediators and a mediator means getting people to agree (SWJ, Volume 19, page 241. Bhasin page 56).

Security Council re-owned: Bhasin points out (page 57 op. cit.) `At the same press conference on 24 July, 1952 when asked what the necessity of plebiscite was now that he had got the Constituent Assembly, he replied “Maybe theoretically you may be right. But we have given them an assurance and we stand by it (SWJ: Volume 19, pp. 240-241. Bhasin, p. 57).

If Kashmir is India’s integral part, what is the United Nations’ Military Observers’ Group on India Pakistan doing on LOC since January 24, 1949?  India is wary of their presence. It asked them to vacate their residence at 1/AB, Purana Qila Road, Connaught Place, Delhi – 11000; from where it has been functioning since 1949 (India asks UN team on Kashmir to leave Delhi, Reuters July 9, 2014). It even harassed `Three members of the United Nations Military Observers Mission for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) had a close call along the restive Line of Control (LoC) in Azad Jammu and Kashmir after Indian troops shot at and injured two locals who were briefing them on the situation prevailing in the wake of ceasefire violations’ (Indian troops fire across LoC in presence of UN observers, 2 injured, March 14, 2018).

Besides being a geographical dispute, Kashmir dispute has a human rights dimension. Even the Simla accord does not repeal UN resolutions and Kashmiris’ right to self-determination.

Inference: India does not own the LOC or LAC. It shrugs off UN resolutions or Simla Accord. Then will it abide by the LAC or status quo?

Buffer zone is a temporary measure to ward off conflict with China. A permanent solution lies in resolving the Kashmir dispute. Pending a final settlement, softening the borders in accordance with former Indian foreign secretary Jagat S. Mehta’s proposals appears to be need of the hour to mitigate suffering of the Kashmiri (Jagat S. Mehta, ‘Resolving Kashmir in the International Context in the 1990s‘, in Robert G. Wirsing, India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute 1994, St Martin’s Press).

If a dispute re-flares up Aksai Chin, and by corollary status of the disputed J&K state, shall be internationalized.

If a broad solution is not hammered out, then, still, there are two solutions- a nuclear holocaust or, perhaps, divine intervention

Let India know that a state that flouts international treaties is a rogue state: pacta sunt servanda, treaties are to be observed and are binding on parties. Self-determination is not only a political but also a legal right in disputed lands. 

The post-Galwan Indian external-affairs ministry’s statement reflects that LAC and status quo shall be abided by. In the past also similar statements have been made. For instance, India’s external-affairs spokesman Anurag Srivastava said at press conference on June 25 `Respecting and strictly observing the Line of Actual Control is the basis for peace and tranquility in the border areas and explicitly recognized so in the 1993 and subsequent agreements. Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the LAC in all sectors of the India-China border areas and abide scrupulously by it (The Hindu dated June 25, 2020).

China and India have divergent perceptions of the LAC.  The Hindu dated July 6, 2020 reported `No mention of LAC: China’s statement did not mention the LAC, let alone respecting it’.  

It is India, not China that altered LAC by annexing Ladakh, a part of disputed Jammu and Kashmir State. Flanked by Pakistan’s prime minister, before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, (April 28, 2019), China’s President Xi Jinping had stressed they opposed India’s “unilateral actions” in Kashmir and called for a dialogue (Indian express September 10, 2019).

Where does the LAC lie on India-China border? India-China border is divided into three sectors, where the LAC in the western sector falls in the union territory of Ladakh and is 1597 km long, the middle sector of 545 km length falls in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, and 1346 km long eastern sector falls in the states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. The middle sector is the least disputed sector, while the western sector witnesses the highest transgressions between the two sides.

How is the LAC different from the Line of Control with Pakistan? One could peek into Indian mind through books such as Shivshankar Menon’s Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, Shyam Saran’s How India Sees the World,  and A G Noorani’s India-China Boundary Problem 1846-1947.

It is a common misperception that LAC is more sacrosanct than the LoC. For instance, India’s prestigious Indian Express explained `The LoC emerged from the 1948 ceasefire line negotiated by the UN after the Kashmir War. It was designated as the LoC in 1972, following the Shimla Agreement between the two countries. It is delineated on a map signed by DGMOs of both armies and has the international sanctity of a legal agreement. The LAC, in contrast, is only a concept – it is not agreed upon by the two countries, neither delineated on a map nor demarcated on the ground. 

The newspaper poses question `what was India’s response to China’s designation of the LAC?’. It then explains India rejected the concept of LAC in both 1959 and 1962. Even during the war, Nehru was unequivocal: “There is no sense or meaning in the Chinese offer to withdraw twenty kilometres from what they call ‘line of actual control… In July 1954, Nehru issued a directive that “all our old maps dealing with this frontier should be carefully examined and, where necessary, withdrawn. New maps should be printed showing our Northern and North Eastern frontier without any reference to any ‘line’. The new maps should also be sent to our embassies abroad and should be introduced to the public generally and be used in our schools, colleges, etc”. This map, as is officially used till date, formed the basis of dealings with China, eventually leading to the 1962 War’ (Indian Express, June 6, 2020, Line of Actual Control: Where it is located and where India and China differ).

There are genuine differences on border `perception’ that intermittently lead to face-offs. India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long, while the Chinese consider it to be only around 2,000 km.

Shyam Saran discloses that the LAC was discussed during Chinese Premier Li Peng’s 1991 visit to India, where PM P V Narasimha Rao and Li reached an understanding to maintain peace and tranquillity at the LAC. India formally accepted the concept of the LAC when Rao paid a return visit to Beijing in 1993 and the two sides signed the Agreement to Maintain Peace and Tranquillity at the LAC.

The reference to the LAC was unqualified to make it clear that it was not referring to the LAC of 1959 or 1962 but to the LAC at the time when the agreement was signed. To reconcile the differences about some areas, the two countries agreed that the Joint Working Group on the border issue would take up the task of clarifying the alignment of the LAC.

It appears India is short on fulfilling its promises, be they relate to LOC/LAC or plebiscite.

Status Quo: Resolution of border disputes with China is intertwined with resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Aside from India’s atoot ang mantra (integral-part iteration), China and Pakistan regard Ladakh as part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir State.

Historical perfidy: at heart, Nehru did not care a fig for the LAC, or for the disputed state’s constituent assembly, Indian parliament or the UN. This truth is interspersed in Avtar Singh Bhasin’s 10-volume documentary study (2012) of India-Pakistan Relations 1947-2007.  It contains 3649 official documents, accessed from archives of India’s external-affairs ministry. Despite effort for over a year, Bhasin was denied access to coveted Nehru Papers. But, in 2014, Bhasin was able to get permission from India’s Department of Culture to access them.

These papers gave new perspectives on Nehru’s vacillating state of mind concerning the Kashmir dispute.

In his 2018 book (published after six years of his earlier work), India, Pakistan: Neighbours at Odds (Bloomsbury India, New Delhi, 2018), Bhasin discusses Nehru’s perfidy on Kashmir in Chapter 5 titled Kashmir, India’s Constitution and Nehru’s Vacillation(pages 51-64). The book is based on Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru and author’s own compendium of documents on India-Pak relations. Let us lay bare a few of Nehru’s somersaults.

Kashmir assembly’s `accession’ disowned, Security Council owned: Nehru banked on so-called Instrument of Accession and its authentication by `Constituent Assembly’. Nehru unmasked his brazen volte face in a letter dated October 31, 1947, addressed to the disputed state’s prime minister, on the fourth day of `signing’ of the mythical accession instrument by maharajha on October 26, 1947. It was `counter-signed’ by Lord Mountbatten on October 27, 1947.  The letter says `after consideration of the problem, we are inclined to think that it [plebiscite] should be held under United Nations’ auspices (p. 28 ibid.).

He reiterated in New Delhi on November3, 1951 that `we have made it perfectly clear before the Security Council that the Kashmir Constituent Assembly does not [insofar] as we are concerned come in the way of a decision by the Security Council, or the United Nations’(SWJ: Volume 4: page 292, Bhasin p.228). Again, at a press conference on June 11, 1951, he was asked `if the proposed constituent assembly of Kashmir “decides in favour of acceding to Pakistan, what will be the position?”’ he reiterated,  `We have made it perfectly clear that the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir was not meant to decide finally any such question , and it is not in the way of any decision which may ultimate flow from the Security Council proceedings’ (SWJ: Volume 15:, Part II, page 394. Bhasin page 56). He re-emphasised his view once again at a press conference in New Delhi on November 3, 1951. He said `we have made it perfectly clear before the Security Council that the Kashmir Constituent Assembly does not [insofar as] we are concerned come in the way of a decision by the Security Council or the United Nations’.

 Security Council disowned as just a non-binding mediator: Bhasin points out that `there was a perceptible shift in his [Nehru’s] stand on July 24 1952` about the future of the State _ if the decision of the Security Council was at variance with that of the Constituent Assembly’. Nehru said, `Unless the Security Council functioned under some other Sections of the Charter, it cannot take a decision which is binding upon us unless we agree to it. They are functioning as mediators and a mediator means getting people to agree (SWJ, Volume 19, page 241. Bhasin page 56).

Security Council re-owned: Bhasin points out (page 57 op. cit.) `At the same press conference on 24 July, 1952 when asked what the necessity of plebiscite was now that he had got the Constituent Assembly, he replied “Maybe theoretically you may be right. But we have given them an assurance and we stand by it (SWJ: Volume 19, pp. 240-241. Bhasin, p. 57).

If Kashmir is India’s integral part, what is the United Nations’ Military Observers’ Group on India Pakistan doing on LOC since January 24, 1949?  India is wary of their presence. It asked them to vacate their residence at 1/AB, Purana Qila Road, Connaught Place, Delhi – 11000; from where it has been functioning since 1949 (India asks UN team on Kashmir to leave Delhi, Reuters July 9, 2014). It even harassed `Three members of the United Nations Military Observers Mission for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) had a close call along the restive Line of Control (LoC) in Azad Jammu and Kashmir after Indian troops shot at and injured two locals who were briefing them on the situation prevailing in the wake of ceasefire violations’ (Indian troops fire across LoC in presence of UN observers, 2 injured, March 14, 2018).

Besides being a geographical dispute, Kashmir dispute has a human rights dimension. Even the Simla accord does not repeal UN resolutions and Kashmiris’ right to self-determination.

Inference: India does not own the LOC or LAC. It shrugs off UN resolutions or Simla Accord. Then will it abide by the LAC or status quo?

Buffer zone is a temporary measure to ward off conflict with China. A permanent solution lies in resolving the Kashmir dispute. Pending a final settlement, softening the borders a la Mehta appears to be need of the hour to mitigate suffering of the Kashmiri (Jagat S. Mehta was former Indian foreign secretary).

If a dispute re-flares up Aksai Chin, and by corollary status of the disputed J&K state, shall be internationalized. Contrary to common misconception Pakistan has settled its boundary dispute with China. Aksai Chin was already under China’s control. Pakistan did not cede any territory but instead received gift of 750 square kilometers from China (A. G. Noorani, Facing the truth, Frontline October 06, 2006).

If a broad solution is not hammered out, then, still, there are two solutions- a nuclear holocaust or, perhaps, divine intervention

Let India know that a state that flouts international treaties is a rogue state: pacta sunt servanda, treaties are to be observed and are binding on parties. Self-determination is not only a political but also a legal right in disputed lands.

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