COLOMBO: China appears to be following a dual policy towards India, seeking its cooperation when this suits its interest, and opposing India when its interests are perceived to be under threat.
Given its strategic and economic interest in the revival of the US$ 1.4 billion Colombo Port City project funded by it, China is taking vigorous steps to rope Indian companies into the project. But at the same time, China has come out openly against the Indian project to build the Chabahar port in Iran, which could rival Gwadar port in Pakistan which it is building to be part of its ambitious 21 st. Century Maritime Silk Road project.
Beijing is also dismissive about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambition to make India a US$ 10 trillion economy by 2032 to rival China as the engine of growth in the Asian region.
Colombo Port City
Sri Lanka’s state-owned weekly Sunday Observer had a front page story this week saying that the Sales and Marketing Manager of the Colombo Port City project, Liang Thow Ming, visited India a week ago to get Indian entrepreneurs to invest in the Port City, and had got a good response there.
The weekly quotes unnamed business analysts to say that this is a “masterstroke” on the part of the Chinese to allay Indian fears that the Port City administered by a government-owned Chinese company might pose a threat to India’s security as 70 percent of Colombo Port’s business is accounted for by Indian transshipment.
Indeed, India was worried by the secret docking of a Chinese nuclear submarine at Colombo harbor in 2014, and was concerned about the outright sale of several hundred hectares of land in the proposed Port City to China. But the worry disappeared when the new-elected Sirisena government promised not to compromise India’s security interests and to convert the outright sale of land into a lease.
Indian sources told Express that India has never had any objections to the Port City Project as an economic project, and Indian companies would invest in the Port City, if it showed promise, irrespective of any effort by the Chinese to attract Indian investment.
Piqued by the India’s bid to build a port at Chabahar in Iran, Shi Lancha, writing in China’s state-owned Global Times says that through the Chabahar project, India hopes to neutralize Gwadar port in Pakistan being built by the Chinese.
“ India harbors suspicions – and anxieties - that Gwadar provides China a key post to monitor Indian naval activity in the Persian Gulf and a dual-use base for Chinese ships and submarines. For example, there is popular belief that Gwadar is just another unfriendly stronghold along the so-called String of Pearls that China is building to choke India’s activities in the Indian Ocean and beyond. These influences perpetuate a Sino-Indian rivalry and zero-sum game narrative,” the article dated June 5, says.
India may not be able to meet its “generous offers and high-sounding rhetoric” on Chabahar, Shi Lancha warns.
“As the Make in India campaign continues, India’s limited public financial resources are largely prioritized for domestic use. Given India’s perennial financial weakness, it may take New Delhi longer to fulfill these multibillion-dollar overseas commitments.”
“India’s internal incoherence may produce big concerns. Given India’s rather porous track record in delivering promises, internal problems loom large despite a consensus being hammered out with international shareholders. After all, like many other items on New Delhi’s long wish-list of reforms and development, the plan with Iran depends much on Modi’s limited political capital,” the author says.
Further: “Iran may not always align itself with India’s geostrategic goals. China is also crucial to Tehran’s core interests. Iran never publicly articulated its opposition to the Sino-Pakistani project in Gwadar. Instead, it had aided the project by providing fresh water and fuel.”
Dismisses Modi’s Plans
In an article in Global Times dated June 3, Zhang Jingwei says that Indian Prime Minister Modi’s ambition to make India a US$ 10 trillion economy by 2032 with an annual growth of 10 percent, could turn out to be a pipe dream.
The chaos that characterizes India’s democracy and the existence of many unresolved internal conflicts, besides various pulls and pressures, will prevent India from replicating China’s growth model, the writer says.
“India's poor infrastructure, the social restrictions of its caste system, and complicated ethnic and religious conflicts could also weigh on the country's development. Even if these obstacles are cleared, it will at some point be unsustainable for India to simply pursue rapid economic growth without putting more emphasis on quality of growth. India could even suffer negative effects from pushing too hard for rapid growth,”