Global business and strategy analysts will be watching with keen interest any attempts US President Donald Trump makes to convince India to join its ambitious plan to counter China’s ‘Silk Route’ programme of port and highway constructions. Last November, the US, Japan and Australia unveiled the ‘Blue Dot’ infrastructure network, ostensibly to certify and promote infrastructure development, but in reality, it was to take on China’s BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) that is currently building a chain of roads and ports connecting most of the world to Beijing. The Western alternative has been in the making for some time as nations have voiced alarm at the cheque-book diplomacy of China through its BRI projects and their security ramifications.
Soon after Blue Dot’s launch, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross lost no time in pointing out that American direct investment into Asia had topped $1.6 trillion and that “our numbers will only get bigger”. It was quickly noted by China’s Global Times, which said, “Although China was not mentioned by name, it’s widely suspected that Washington’s new plan is directed against the China proposed BRI.” China’s pique is natural as analysts say Blue Dot could be backed with funding by Japan’s JICA and America’s newly founded International Development Finance Corporation and Ausaid, not to mention a host of global development finance windows backed by the West.
China’s overseas projects funded by debt from its own infrastructure banks are now viewed with trepidation, by both recipient countries for the potential debt trap that these projects could push them into as well as by nations like the US and India who see them as potential international security bases from which the People’s Liberation Army and Navy could operate. India itself has been struggling to complete its own bits of the Asian highway programme that would link its Northeast with Myanmar and Thailand, even as it finds it tough to compete with China in Africa with smaller road, port and railway projects. India’s problem is not just a funds crunch that the Americans and Japanese could help solve, but also a capacity issue where its builders and railwaymen have as yet just not been able to compete with China’s efficiency and huge construction capacity. The authorities should take steps to address these issues.