The unstrung pearl in Sino-Indian relations

更新于:2016-02-09  星期二已有 人阅读 信源:Kai Xue字数统计:4807字

本文来自于德恒律师事务所顾问Kai Xue投稿。

China’s port investment spree in Indian Ocean countries has triggered  a  debate about what it might mean for Indian security. The prevailing  Indian view  is that it’s a ‘string of pearls’ to encircle India. The  concern intensified  last month with the announcement by President Xi  Jinping of a $45-billion  package for Pakistan to build a road network  from (Pakistan-Administered)  Kashmir to Gwadar port.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits China this week, his focus  is on  trade and the border. It’s opportune now to consider the  connection between  tensions at the border, suspicion about  newly-built ports, and lagging bilateral  trade and investment. These  elements are joined at the hip, sinking and rising  together. If one  element is afflicted by categorically negative perception, the  entire  set can sink.

This visit can shift the current readiness for high seas  confrontation to the  groundwork for business integration. With the  unveiling this year of ‘One Belt,  One Road’, an Eurasian integration  plan that will be the Xi administration’s  signature international  initiative, this is the time for perception and policy  to be  reimagined and reconfigured.

‘One Belt, One Road’ is composed of a Silk Road Economic Belt linking  interior China to Central Europe through a trade corridor via Central  Asia and  Russia, and the Maritime Silk Road connecting coastal China  to the Mediterranean  by routes across the Indian Ocean and South-east  Asia. The Indian Ocean is a  main node in this sprawling commercial network.

The initiative will be more than infrastructure. It will flood the  region  with low-cost financing and engineering expertise and  facilitate the  standardization of trade and finance. China will be  the primary project  financier, having established the Asia  Infrastructure Investment Bank that is to  supplant the Japan/US-led  Asian Development Bank, and has pledged an initial $40  billion of  investments through the Silk Road Fund.

China’s commercial intent goes against the view of Indian strategists  who  anticipate in the ‘string of pearls’, a diabolical Chinese  strategy manifested  in port investments in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh,  Maldives, Mauritius, and, most  saliently, at Gwadar in Pakistan.  These security strategists see a collective  military menace sponsored  by the Chinese government.

So, will the ‘string of pearls’ wrap around India as the strategists  fear? Or  will it be a piece of the infrastructure panoply of ‘One  Belt, One Road’? The  answer is swayed by the context of border  tensions. As long as military activity  near India’s borders is  trumped with alarm, it’s rational for Indians to be  concerned about  encirclement through infrastructure-construction despite China’s  undoubted commercial motive.

However, the border dispute is clouded by fog and the cause of  tensions can  be based on flimsy misperception. Reports in India of  border incursions by China  have unsettled bilateral relations. But  the border is not demarcated by  agreement. Instead there are ‘lines  of perception’ asserted by each side. At  some sections the lines of  perception overlap, forming in between a stand-off  space as wide as  10km. A patrol by one side can be an incursion across the  other’s  line, and yet remain inside the ambit of one’s own territory.

The current picture is of a sinister China at the border and on the  littoral.  But visualize a completely different picture. Imagine  instead India as  ambitiously seeking to become integrated into the  ‘string of pearls’. This is  not a stretch of the imagination as a  8Chinese-built port was supposed to have  been built in Kerala in  2006. With state government backing and a Chinese  contractor lined  up, port construction was set to commence. Considering the  state  government’s support, this would not have been the case of another  pearl  slipped across the string. However, Delhi intervened and  disallowed the  investment, citing national security risk.

If the project had been realized, continue imagining a map of  Chinese-built  ports in the Indian Ocean. With a pearl dotting Kerala,  whatever pattern emerges  isn’t a string. Instead the ports across the  map look like scattered loose  pearls.

Indians felt provoked in November 2014 when a Chinese submarine  docked in Sri  Lanka. But it is anxiety that grew after an imaginary  string emerged from  investment prohibition by the last administration.

It is within Delhi’s control to cut this string, disperse the pearls,  and  accordingly change perception.

On this trip, Narendra Modi wants to discuss opening the door to  Chinese  investment and Indian participation in ‘One Belt, One Road’.  With new  imagination comes an inversion in thinking. India will see  unstrung, loose  pearls for the taking.

此文于5月13日发表在印度《The    Economic Times》(《经济时报》)上。

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