NEW DELHI: Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), aimed at hard-selling China’s infrastructural prowess, has hit a rough patch with three nations, including its all-weather friend Pakistan, cancelling large hydroelectric project contracts worth almost $20 billion with Chinese firms.
While New Delhi, which has stayed out of the BRI citing territorial and other concerns, declined to comment officially, a senior officer privately hinted that this “could signify a blowback, or rejection, of China’s imperialist, hegemonistic approach towards its Asian neighbours. I suspect even Pakistan is now re-thinking its commitment to the CPEC project, which will make it beholden to China forever”.
In mid-November, Pakistan withdrew its request to include the $14-billion Diamer-Bhasha Dam on the Indus River in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) framework, citing unacceptable Chinese conditions. “Chinese conditions for financing the Diamer-Bhasha dam were not doable and against our interests,” Water and Power Development Authority Chairman Muzammil Hussain said. Beijing on November 20 decided to stop funding three major road projects that are part of the corridor, citing reports of corruption.
Also last month, Nepal’s Deputy PM Kamal Thapa announced that the plan to award the $2.5 billion 1,200 MW hydroelectric project to China’s Gezhouba Group had been scrapped. The MoU had been signed less than a month after Nepal agreed in May to take part in BRI, and is seen as a major setback for Beijing’s plans to expand its sphere of influence in the Himalayan nation.
Myanmar, which has faced massive internal opposition to a $3.6 billion Myitsone dam, formally announced last month that it no longer is interested in big hydro-electric power projects.
All this comes at a time when India is ramping up its outreach to the west (through the Iranian ports of Bandar Abbas and Chabahar into Central Asia, Russia and Afghanistan) and east with projects like the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, which involves Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal.