In June 2018, Indian PM Narendra Modi decided against endorsing the programme, citing threats to “Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity” of participating nations. In August last year, Malaysia’s New Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, scrapped $22 billion of Chinese infrastructure projects, pointing out their lack of feasibility. Many more countries are viewing China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with suspicion.
China’s expanding presence across the rest of Asia, primarily through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has drawn its fair share of detractors in the Western world such as the US, which has been weary of its increase military operations. In particular, the initiative’s critics have cited China’s expansionism across Southeast Asia by extending large sums of credit to governments of smaller nations for development projects. Closer to home, the BRI, which involves infrastructure investments and trade partnerships across the region, has also been looked upon with apprehension by India.
In June 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided against endorsing the programme. However, India isn’t alone in its doubts about the BRI. Nearly 70% of the respondents in a survey conducted across Southeast Asia earlier this month by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a Singapore based think tank, said that their governments should be careful when it came to negotiating Belt and Road Initiative projects with China.
In fact, the doubts were overwhelmingly expressed by respondents in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.
The apprehension is well-founded, as China has made significant inroads into most of India’s immediate neighbours, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives and most importantly Pakistan. Through the China Pakistan Economic Corridor which also runs through Pakistan occupied Kashmir, thereby straining India’s relations with these countries and forming a strategic military circle around it, commonly referred to as the “String of Pearls.”
Read: String of Pearls
In addition, its practice of investing large sums in these countries in lieu of infrastructure development and access to their markets, has raised concerns that by trapping these countries in a debt cycle, it wields a unhealthy level of influence over them.
This can be seen in Pakistan, which is mired in a debt crisis and Sri Lanka, which surrendered a 99-year lease on its $1.3 billion Port Hambantota to China in December 2017 after failing to meet its debt payments.
In March last year, the former US Secretary of State didn’t mince any words with regards to his administration’s view of China’s overtures to smaller nations, saying that the country “encourages dependency using opaque contracts, predatory loan practices, and corrupt deals that mire nations in debt and undercut their sovereignty”.
In August last year, Malaysia’s New Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, scrapped $22 billion of Chinese infrastructure projects, pointing out their lack of feasibility and the need to reduce the country’s debt burden.
India has made attempts to counter China’s influence, but it simply doesn’t boast the same financial clout. In December 2018, the Indian government announced that it was extending $1.4 billion in financial aid to Maldives to fund its “socio-economic development” programs and pay back some of its loans to China.
For its part, China seems unperturbed by conventional opinions regarding the BRI. Despite the bad PR and unwillingness of some countries to cooperate, the country does not seem to have any intentions of slowing down.