The ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) initiative is likely to become the lynchpin of Chinese engagement with the world.
The novel idea of ‘entity diplomacy’ argues for engaging within and across regions to secure the best interests of an entity that is necessarily larger and with interests broader than those of any sovereign. This follows from the argument of a revival of ‘continentalism’ as the Eurasian landmass deepens linkages and ‘Asia’ emerges. OBOR becomes, for the Chinese, an Asian undertaking that needs to be evaluated on the gains it accrues to the entity, i.e. Asia, as opposed to China alone. It therefore follows, from Beijing’s perspective, that Indian and other Asian nations must support and work for the OBOR initiative.
Entity diplomacy also translates into the establishment of “one economic continent”. OBOR, then, becomes a vehicle that promotes alignment of infrastructure, trade and economic strategies. Indeed, India is already part of the initiative, as its own projects like Project Mausam and economic initiatives such as Make in India and Digital India complement and complete OBOR. Indian participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and joint ownership of the New Development Bank only reaffirm India’s partnership in this Asian project.
How can this initiative navigate the irreconcilable geometries of South Asia that prevent India from providing full backing to OBOR? A formal nod to the project will serve as a de-facto legitimisation to Pakistan’s rights on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that is “closely related” to OBOR.
Fundamentally, New Delhi needs to resolve for itself whether OBOR represents a threat or an opportunity. The answer undoubtedly ticks both boxes. Chinese political expansion and economic ambitions, packaged as OBOR, are two sides of the same coin. To be firm while responding to one facet, while making use of the opportunities that become available from the other, will largely depend on the institutional agency and strategic imagination India is able to bring to the table.