The Silk Road Economic Belt: Notes for UPSC Exam

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.

This article will talk about its meaning, objectives, outcomes and India’s stand. For IAS Exam, the topic holds importance for both prelims and mains.

For more topics related to international events, be sure to visit the Important Topics in International Relations for UPSC Exam page now!!

The following links will help strengthen the candidates in their UPSC preparation:

What are the 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

Silk Road Economic Belt - Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) - Route

What are the possible outcomes of the initiative?

There are three possible outcomes of the Belt initiative. They are as follows:

  1. The Belt initiative goes ahead as planned where at full capacity it will interconnect with almost 70 countries across the Eurasian region. However, due to many disputes and other obstacles, it is unlikely that such an outcome will ever happen in the short- or even mid-term. Although the initiative enjoyed popular support from the beginning, it has diminished over the years due to certain geopolitical reasons, chief among them being an infringement of sovereign territorial rights in member countries by China.
  2. The initiatives get stuck due to many hurdles, ultimately getting shelved. Although there are many hurdles like lack of funding and political instability, this scenario is still unlikely to happen. The reason being that the modern Chinese government has always stuck to this plan regardless of any hurdles in the past. Although it should also be taken into account that in this project China is not acting on its own and need the support of member nations to push forth its objectives.
  3. The final outcome is the most likely to happen given the current global political and economic scenario: The scope of the project expands midway. As mentioned earlier, not many countries share China’s enthusiasm for completing the project. But there are still many who believe that the returns far outweigh the risks projected, specifically those countries which are in the immediate vicinity of China. Rise of China’s economy, as well as infrastructural development and new trade possibilities, could bring many economic benefits to those countries.

What is India’s view on the Silk Road Economic Belt?

India views China’s commercial initiatives with growing alarm as the ways in which such an ambition is being met are detrimental to India’s interest. In 2016, former Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jayshankar noted in 2016 that the “interactive dynamic between strategic interests and connectivity initiatives – a universal proposition – is on particular display in our continent.” He went on to caution against countries using connectivity “as an exercise in hard-wiring that influences choices.”

India has started to craft a policy response. In its strongest stance on the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative and by extension the BRI to date, India marked its protest by not attending the Belt and Road Forum that China hosted in May 2017. In official statements, India questioned the initiative’s transparency and processes, and New Delhi opposed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) due to concerns about territorial sovereignty. As India calibrates its policy response, instead of perceiving the BRI as one project, it would be wise to look at the initiative as a culmination of various bilateral initiatives, many of them involving projects that were actually initiated before the BRI itself was formally launched.

In conclusion, India is not opposed to infrastructure development in the region, but it is concerned about the strategic implications of certain Chinese-led initiatives. At the very least, this will mark a new phase in the India-China relations. Whether it will be a positive or negative phase remains a point of speculation at this point in time.

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