Foreign Policy of India – II

Delhi Law Academy


•            The One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR) is the global development strategy initiated by the Government of China involving infrastructural development and direct investments in many countries across the continents of Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas.

What is the One Belt One Road initiative?

•            The OBOR initiative was announced in 2013 by China’s President Xi Jinping. The ‘Belt’ refers to the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’, which is a series of overland routes reminiscent of the Silk Road of antiquity and the late middle ages, while the ‘Road’ refers to the sea routes, which is also referred to as the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

•            The OBOR has been referred to as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) since 2016 due to the Chinese government’s consideration of the word ‘one’ is prone to misinterpretation. The Chinese media however still refers to it as the One Belt One Road to this day.

The image below represents the expected route map of the One Belt One Road initiative.

•            The Silk Road Economic Belt is the ‘Belt’ part of the One Belt One Road initiative (also known as the BRI).

•            It is part of an ambitious plan by the Chinese government to promote infrastructural development and connectivity and stimulate economic integration across the Eurasian region.

•            It has both economic and strategic implications that will affect both China and the participating nations in the long run.

Objectives of the Silk Road Economic Belt

The objectives of the Silk Road Economic Belt are in sync with its parent initiative, One Belt One Road. They are as follows:

•            To create a cohesive economic zone by building hard infrastructures, such as rail and road links, and creating soft infrastructures in the form of signing a trade agreement and creating a commercial legal structure with a court system to monitor and enforce the agreements.

•            To strengthen cross-cultural exchanges and mutual understanding between nations that are part of the BRI initiative.

•            This strategy is also in line with pushing export of Chinese technologies in new markets, as well as increasing the production capacity in industries such as electronics, construction and logistics.

•            It is expected that both the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and the sea-based 21st Century Maritime Silk Road both will play a crucial role in this regard.

The proposed land route of the Silk Road Economic Belt is given in the image below

21st Century Maritime Silk Road

•            The “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” (also known by its shortened version – the Road and Maritime Silk Road – MSR) is a modern version of the ancient Maritime Silk Road that connected China with Western Asia and parts of Africa.

•            Similar to its parent initiative – One Belt One Road (OBOR), the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is a strategic initiative to encourage growth in investments and foster economic collaboration between member nations.

•            It is the sea route part of the OBOR initiative, which is a strategic investment venture that is aimed at fostering economic cooperation across the entire historic Silk Road region. The China -Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is just one of many extensions to the new Silk Road.

•            To this end, China has invested in many ports in the ensuing years, along with some of them being leased to Chinese companies as part of the development and reconstruction program. These ports will play a crucial role in projecting China as a pre-eminent maritime power.

Some of them are as follows:

  • Gwadar, Pakistan: 40 years
  • Kyaukpyu, Myanmar: 50 years
  • Kuantan, Malaysia: 60 years
  • Obock, Djibouti: 10 years
  • Malacca Gateway: 99 Years
  • Hambantota, Sri Lanka: 99 years
  • Muara, Brunei: 60 years
  • Feydhoo Finolhu, Maldives: 50 years

The proposed routes of the Road are given in the image below:

Major Concerns about the OBOR in Asia and Beyond

The implementation of the OBOR will pose significant risks and challenges for China’s neighbours and itself. Some of them are as follows:

•            Chinese construction companies have a poor track record when operating in foreign nations, chief among them being the mistreatment of local workers. Therefore, any excesses on the part of these companies might result in a serious blow to China’s image. This in addition to giving rise to instability in host nations will prove detrimental to the OBOR initiative.

•            The geopolitical aspects of the initiative are that certain nations such as the United Nations and Russia view it as a risk to their influence in their respective regions. Russia views Central Asia as part of its sphere influence for a long time. The increase in Chinese influence is taken as a hurdle towards Russian interests in the region. The same can be said for the United States regarding its interests in the Pacific Region.

•            The ultimate risk is of falling into a ‘debt trap’. The exorbitant funding for unsound projects to secure Chinese access to local resources, instead of helping the local economy will leave such nations vulnerable to Chinese influence. When a host country is unable to pay back the money invested by China, China on its part will ask concessions that will compromise its sovereignty. The case of Sri Lanka handing over one of its Chinese-financed shipyards to a Chinese-backed company for a 99-year lease is such an example.

•            Countries who have been part of the OBOR have accused China of practising credit imperialism by charging exorbitant rates of interest. This forces them into giving up critical infrastructure in order to pay off the loan. Such claims have been vehemently denied by China.

India’s Stand on the OBOR initiative

•            The Indian security establishment is deeply suspicious of China’s silk road initiatives.

•            Delhi’s strategic community has long objected to China’s road construction on land frontiers and port-building in the Indian Ocean as “strategic encirclement”.

•            The problem is even more compounded with the presence of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is the presence of CPEC that actually lends credence to the “strategic encirclement” theory.

•            However, optimists feel India needs to take a fresh look. Canning the issue will be paving the way for India’s marginalisation from the unfolding geo-economic Options for India

Options for India regarding OBOR

•            Firstly, the Indian Government must decide for itself whether the OBOR is a threat or an opportunity. In the case of the latter, how making use of it will largely depend on the institutional agencies the strategic objectives India is able to bring forth.

•            Improve India’s border infrastructure by refurbishing border management, building new ports. Foreign corporate entities can be collaborated with by the government in order to take up infrastructure projects abroad.

•            India needs to match the ambition to back the capacities that allow it to be a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region. For this to happen New Delhi has to overcome its habitual inability to take speedy decisions with respect to defence partnerships and procurement.

Latest Developments Regarding OBOR

•            First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Igor Shuvalov in a statement made in 2015, declared that “Russia should not view the Silk Road Economic Belt as a threat to its traditional, regional sphere of influence, but is an opportunity for the Eurasian Economic Union.

•            In April 2019 and during the second Arab Forum on Reform and Development, China engaged in an array of partnerships called “Build the Belt and Road, Share Development and Prosperity” with 18 Arab countries.

•            Greece, Croatia and 14 other Eastern European countries are already dealing with China within the frame of the BRI. In March 2019, Italy was the first member of the Group of Seven nations to join the Chinese Initiative.

•            Japan, India and Australia joined forces to create an alternative to the Belt and Road creating the “Blue Dot Network”. This project has the main motto of global infrastructural development with the collaboration of governments, the private sector, and civil societies. Blue Dot Network is basically a grading mechanism which evaluates global infrastructure (Indo-Pacific region and around the world) based on different parameters like debt, environmental standards, labour standards, etc.

•            Recently, the US joined the initiative thus renaming the alliance into the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIP). President Donald Trump has begun translating the U.S. Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIP) into more concrete initiatives across what officials have articulated as three pillars – security, economics, and governance.

•            At the end of March 2019, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker joined for talks with Xi in Paris in the company of President Macron. There, Macron exhorted China to “respect the unity of the European Union and the values it carries in the world”.

•            Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, visited China on Oct 7 – 8 2019, with the main objective of reviving stalled projects of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

•            Due to a slight escalation in the South-China sea dispute, the United States Government slapped new economic new restrictions on certain Chinese state-owned enterprises and executives for “malign activities” in the South China Sea on August 2020. These sanctions may adversely affect several projects connected to the OBOR.


•            India’s Act East Policy is based on 4 C’s –  Culture, Commerce, Connectivity and Capacity Building. As described by PM Modi, India’s vision for the region is SAGAR – Security for All and Growth for All.

•            This article covers the ‘Act East Policy’ of India launched in 2014 and helps one understand its difference with ‘Look East Policy’ of India launched in 1991.


•            The Objective of ‘Act East Policy’ is to promote economic cooperation, cultural ties and develop a strategic relationship with countries in the Asia-Pacific region through continuous engagement at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels thereby providing enhanced connectivity to the States of North Eastern Region including Arunachal Pradesh with other countries in our neighbourhood.

Difference Between Act East Policy (2014) and Look East Policy (1991)

•            Both the policies are 2 succeeding phases, in the evolution of India’s policy towards South East Asia and East Asia.

•            Some of the major differences in the ‘Act East’ Policy and ‘Look East’ Policy of India are mentioned in the below table.

Act East PolicyLook East Policy
Act East Policy was launched in 2014Look East Policy was launched in 1991
It was launched by Current Prime Minister of India – Narendra ModiIt was launched by former Prime Minister of India – PV Narasimha Rao
India was in a very favourable position from the perspective of economic might when Act East Policy was launched in 2014.India had a very fragile economy when Look East Policy was launched, due to the 1991 Economic crisis. India was in a transition phase to a liberalized economy.
Focus is more on boosting economic co-operation, building infrastructure for greater connectivity, importantly strategic & security tiesFocus more on boosting economic co-operation.
This was initiated to tackle the changing Geo-political scenario due to dominance by China, in the South China Sea and its increasing influence in the Indian Ocean Region.The Indian economy was heavily dependent on the Soviet Union, but the fall of Soviet Bloc propelled India to look at alternative regions, i.e. South East Asia to sustain the economy. India realised there was immense scope for growth in the region, as Japan and China had already become a major economic player in the region.
Act East Policy has a greater strategic and political angle to the cooperation. Relationships with Japan, South Korea,  Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia have been upgraded to a strategic partnership to counter the dominance of China in the entire region.The focus was more on boosting trade and investment relations with Southeast Asian countries. There was not much focus on Quad – India, USA, Japan and Australia or up-gradation to the strategic partnership with other nations in the region.
Focusing more on historical, cultural, linguistic and religious ties through more people to people exchanges.Historical ties between India and ASEAN were not given much prominence and therefore not capitalised in its Look East Policy.
Heavy focus is being given to the development of the North East region. India believes that the North East region of India can be the gateway to East Asia and Southeast Asia. Japan is helping India by providing funds for many infrastructure projects.North East of India was neglected in its plans of forging deeper ties with East Asia.
India is collaborating with Japan in developing infrastructure in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and BangladeshIndia did not focus on developing infrastructure in other countries.
Greater focus on defence cooperation Not much focus on defence cooperation


•            The Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN is an organisation formed by the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore in 1967 to promote economic growth, peace, security, social progress and cultural development in the Southeast Asian region.

ASEAN History

•            ASEAN was established on 8th August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration (a.k.a ASEAN Declaration) by the founding fathers of the countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines. The preceding organisation was the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA) comprising of Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

•            Five other nations joined the ASEAN in subsequent years making the current membership to ten countries.

ASEAN Members

  1. Thailand (founding member)
  2. The Philippines (founding member)
  3. Malaysia (founding member)
  4. Singapore (founding member)
  5. Indonesia (founding member)
  6. Brunei (joined in 1984)
  7. Vietnam (joined in 1995)
  8. Lao PDR (joined in 1997)
  9. Myanmar (joined in 1997)
  10. Cambodia (joined in 1999)

•     There are two observer States namely, Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste (East Timor).

ASEAN Purpose

  • Accelerating economic growth, cultural development, and social progress in the region by joint initiatives in the spirit of partnership and equality to cement the foundation for a peaceful and strong community of SE Asian countries.
  • Promoting peace and stability in the region by incorporating respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationships between nations and adherence to the United Nations principles.
  • Promoting active collaboration and mutual assistance in subjects of common interest in social, economic, cultural, administrative, scientific, and technical domains.
  • Assisting member countries via training and research facilities in the educational, administrative, technical, and professional domains.
  • Cooperating for better usage of agriculture and industries, trade expansion (including studying the problem of international commodity trade), improving communication and transportation facilities, and improving living standards among the people.
  • Promoting SE Asian studies.
  • Exploring more avenues for further cooperation among themselves, and maintaining close and advantageous cooperation with other international groupings of similar objectives.



•            The White House ceremony on 15th September 2020 marking the formal normalisation of Israel’s ties with UAE and Bahrain has created a significant inflection point in regional history and geopolitics.

•            Under the agreement, the UAE and Bahrain would normalise ties with Israel, leading to better economic, political and security engagement.

•            Except with Jordan and Egypt, Israel does not have diplomatic relations with Gulf Arab states owing to its long-standing conflict with Palestinians

•            Israel had signed peace agreements with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994.

How is the September 15 reconciliation different from previous peace agreements (1979 & 1994)?

•            Firstly, UAE and Bahrain do not have any territorial dispute with Israel, nor have they ever been at war with it.

•            Although formally committed to an Arab consensus (two-state resolution of the Palestine cause) UAE & Bahrain have steadily moved towards having substantive links with Israel in recent years.

•            Hence, the ‘Abraham Accords’ entered with the UAE and Bahrain are ‘peace-for-peace’ deals without any physical quid pro quo by Israel.

Implications of Abraham Accord for India

•            India’s Stance: Geopolitically, India has welcomed the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel, calling both its strategic partners

•            Foreign Policy Significance: India has stronger, multifaceted and growing socioeconomic engagements with Israel and the Gulf countries. Therefore, any changes in regional dynamics will impact the India’s Strategic interests in the region.

•            Eases India’s Balancing Act: The new accord widens the moderate constituency for peaceful resolution of the Palestine dispute, easing India’s diplomatic balancing act.

•            New Arena of Proxy War: The possibility of the southern Gulf becoming the new arena of the proxy war between Iran and Israel cannot be ruled out, particularly in Shia pockets. India would have to be on its guard to monitor such conflicts.

•            Backlash on Jihadi Fringe movement: The Israel-GCC ties may provoke new polarisations between the Jihadi fringe and the mainstream.

•            Economic Challenges: India has acquired a large and rewarding regional footprint, particularly as the preferred source of manpower, food products, pharmaceuticals, gem and jewellery, light engineering items, etc. This position could be challenged by Israel which has niche strength in defence, security, solar power, horticulture etc.

•            India–Iran Relations impacted: For decades, one of the main sources of instability in  may make the rift wider and more violent, thus testing India-Iran relations.


•            India should use this opportunity to give itself a bigger role in a region which is its strategic backyard.

•            The deal opens up new opportunities for India to play a much larger role in the regional security and stability in the Gulf, where New Delhi enjoys special relations with both Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem.

•            In the evolving scenario, there may be scope for a profitable trilateral synergy, but India cannot take its preponderance as a given.