No signs that India has changed its stand on BRI

Has India softened its opposition to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) exactly a year after Indian and Chinese troops disengaged at Dolam (or Doklam)? A report in a Chinese media outlet on Wednesday seems to think so. However, there are no indications in Delhi that suggest that India has changed its stand.

The BRI–Chinese President Xi Jingping’s signature project—is five years old but India made public its opposition to the connectivity plans in May 2017, saying the so-called ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ under the BRI violates India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Delhi has in the past made it clear that no country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity. India has also pointed out that apart from sovereignty concerns, it believes ‘connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality.’

Despite a visible thaw in India-China relations post the Wuhan Summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jingping, there is no reason to believe that New Delhi has had a change of mind in any way even under the rubric of sub-regional arrangements called Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor or the Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal (BBIN) connectivity project. The write up on China’s CGTN website gives an impression that BCIM will be included in the BRI plans. However, the reality is that BCIM has not moved beyond unofficial discussion stage yet.

In fact, the concept of BCIM mechanism predates OBOR/BRI by over a decade. In any case, the BCIM discussions are still at track-II level with a Joint Study Group (JSG) comprising experts and academicians of the four countries examining ways to promote connectivity in the BCIM region for closer economic, trade, and people-to-people linkages through the development of a BCIM Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC).

Three meetings of the JSG have taken place so far since 2013 in China, Bangladesh and India. Informed sources say the fourth meeting is to be hosted by Myanmar, but no dates are finalised yet. The JSG is working on a Joint Study Report covering different aspects related to development of BCIM-EC. Those advocating BCIM say, based on the study’s outcome, actual projects will be considered depending on their feasibility and consultations among the stakeholders.