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Opinion\Op-Ed Contributors

Belt and Road Forum a historic test

China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-02 07:03

Drift toward geopolitics can be counterproductive

Belt and Road Forum a historic test

Swaran Singh, a professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Right from the beginning, the Belt and Road Initiative has been the subject of extreme interpretations, which either border on sloganeering by one camp which belches out unacceptable ridicule or the other side that churns out slavish eulogies. The biggest challenge for the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, therefore, lies in providing much needed clarity on not just the Belt and Road "paradigm" but also on its current outline and its tools and tactics.

Addressing skeptics remains the most formidable task for building Belt and Road "partnerships" based, not on short-term development needs, but on enduring commitments arising out of mutual trust and mutual benefit. Being in the lead in unfolding this historic metamorphosis, the onus lies with China's leaders to show that the Belt and Road Initiative's goal is beyond a knee-jerk reflex driven by compulsions to invest China's excessive foreign exchange reserves.

For the Belt and Road Initiative to succeed in re-writing history, Beijing must first convince all the major players so that the opportunity to herald outside-the-box strategies is not allowed to become hostage to 20th century obsessions with geopolitics. The Belt and Road juggernaut seems unstoppable now; so by restricting it to loyal followers alone may dwarf its possibilities.

Especially, in the context of US President Donald Trump's whimsical twists and turns casting doubts on Washington's leadership to address global threats, several countries have become skeptical about China's ambitions, because they assume the initiative is solidly backed by its financial and technological capacities for implementing hundreds of projects. And though there is no dearth of takers of such benefits, it will be myopic to privilege quantity over quality.

India is not the only country to follow this wait-and-watch policy.

As international relations shift from inter-state to inter-societal channels thanks to the advancement of information technology, the old-fashioned focus on demarcated borders and military alliances emphasizing "divisions" are fast giving way to logistics of "connectivity".

The Indian prime minister's emphasis on highways and information technology expressways, and culture, commerce and connectivity shows that the Indian leadership is aware of such shifts. This is not to say the hangover of geopolitics no longer colors the Indian leadership's visions about the Belt and Road economic corridors. In their ideal state, instead of being tools of territorial domination, the corridors constitute multi-model, multi-nodal "processes" grounded in the framework of multiple ownership and multiple beneficiaries.

It is thus for Beijing to ensure these economic corridors are seen as "channels" that seek to connect economic agencies to various hubs and nodes that are ordained with concentrated presence of economic actors and resources. Only if all the stakeholders begin to see the Belt and Road Initiative in this pure form of geo-economics can it become their path to prosperity and peace.

Any actual or perceived drift toward geopolitics will not just be futile but counterproductive.

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