China’s increasing footprint in the South Asian region, as reflected by its aggressive push for the $46-billion China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), has exacerbated bilateral tensions with India. Already, Beijing’s persistent moves to block India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the United Nation’s ban on Pakistan-based terror mastermind Masood Azhar have soured ties between the two countries. India has done the right thing by declining Chinese invitation to participate in the Silk Road summit, to be held in Beijing in May, to deliberate on the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, of which the CPEC is a key component. The CPEC is totally unacceptable to India as it runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Through informal channels, both Beijing and Islamabad made an offer to India to join the connectivity project. While those advocating India’s participation in the mega infrastructure project argue that it would open up massive trade opportunities for the country, the issue, however, is not about commercial benefit but about sovereignty. In fact, New Delhi never shied away from active participation in improving regional connectivity with Myanmar’s Kaladan project, Iran’s Chabahar port and north-south corridor with Russia being the shining examples. It is surprising that China, which is extremely sensitive about matters that concern its sovereignty and territorial integrity, has chosen to ignore India’s legitimate concerns over sovereignty and terror issues.
If India yields to trade temptations and joins the OBOR initiative, particularly the CPEC, it reflects acceptance of the status quo in Kashmir and would give Pakistan more leverage on this key bilateral issue. The CPEC, which aims at linking South Western Pakistani city of Gwadar to China’s Xinjiang region through a vast network of highways and railways, passes through Balochistan, which Pakistan occupied forcibly in 1948. Joining the CPEC would amount to resorting to double standards towards Balochistan, which is struggling for independence from Pakistan. Also, it would negate India’s efforts to isolate Pakistan on the terrorism front. The CPEC rests on a Chinese plan to secure and shorten its supply lines through Gwadar with an enhanced presence in the Indian Ocean. Once the project is completed, an extensive Chinese presence will undermine India’s influence in the Indian Ocean. The project will not only boost Pakistani economy but also help cut short the route for China’s oil imports by 6,000 miles. It is expected to open up a new strategic gateway for China to tap into African, West Asian and South Asian trade. The project has brought Pakistan and China together in a strategic embrace with a string of Chinese banks financing it. An increasingly dominant and hegemonic China would not only impede India’s rise but would also be detrimental to the interests of a multi-polar Asia.