On May 14, 2017, more than 200 heads of think tanks, retired officials, and well-known experts from more than 40 countries and regions gathered in Beijing to attend the Thematic Session on Think Tank Exchanges of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. At the event, Dai Yonghong, director of the Institute of South Asian Studies of Sichuan University’s School of International Relations, shared his views with China-India Dialogue about India’s vision on implementing the Belt and Road Initiative.
The eight countries in South Asia have a combined population of nearly 1.8 billion people. Yet apart from India, the other seven are facing low-rated development. South Asia is the intersection of the land and sea routes for the Belt and Road Initiative, and two economic corridors—the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor—are located in this region. Several South Asian countries including Bhutan are actively involved in the Belt and Road Initiative; Nepal also recently signed a memorandum of cooperation on the Initiative with China. But so far, India has not actively responded to it.
India’s absence from the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation is both predictable and unexpected. The downside of this absence is actually borne by India. In fact, India is already involved in the Belt and Road Initiative. India is not only a BCIM member, but also the second largest shareholder of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), but Modi’s foreign policy has made a “silent movement.” India also wants to benefit from the Belt and Road by putting forward a series of development plans, such as the “Cotton Route” and the “Spice Route”.
China advocates the principles of openness and inclusiveness, which conform to the idea of a community of shared future. I believe that the Forum will lead to more and more countries participating in the cooperative actions of the Initiative. Many of India’s top scholars and researchers believe that the opportunities of the Initiative far outweigh the challenges for India. China has always welcomed India to join in the Initiative. I believe that one day, India will join the Belt and Road Initiative, and that day won’t be too far away. India has an urgent need to develop infrastructure, and the longer it waits, the more it will lose.
Friendly exchanges between China and India have existed for more than 2,000 years. As early as the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Chinese monk Xuanzang journeyed to India to obtain Buddhist sutras. In his speech, President Xi Jinping also talked about Buddhism, which originated in India and has been carried forward in China. The border conflict in 1962 is a friction in the history of friendly China-India exchanges. The two peoples have an urgent desire to communicate with each other. There are many Indian students studying for master’s or Ph.D. degrees at Sichuan University.
China and India are both ancient civilizations and have great regional influence. There is no reason for either to choose confrontation. People-to-people exchanges and mutual trust need to be strengthened, and the two governments also need to do more, such as easing application requirements for visas. Many Chinese companies are willing to invest in infrastructure in India, but hesitate due to labor and land problems. The Indian government can also take actions to solve these problems.
At present, India still has doubts about China, but the open, inclusive Belt and Road Initiative provides opportunities. It is up to the Indian government to settle on a decision.