These are vast resource-rich territories with rickety infrastructure, poor transport, communications and connectivity.
Someone, somewhere in China must have had either done research on the great West-East landmass spanning from the English Channel to the shoreline of the Sea of Japan — from Greenwich to 145 degrees east longitude, and mapped the contours of thousands of kilometres of the North-South axis, from the Laptev Sea, adjacent to the North Pole (80 degrees north latitude), to the Gulf of Talaimannar and the equator, and further to the southern hemisphere across the Indian Ocean, to the Maldives, Mauritius, Djibouti, and beyond; and to the Pacific island-nation of Vanuatu.
China’s BRI/OBOR/CPEC actually seems to be the result of multi-disciplinary research. Though Chinese President Xi Jinping is at pains to explain the bona fides of Beijing’s aim, intention and objectives, he tells his soldiers to prepare to die; deprecates and denounces democracy in no uncertain terms and emphatically thunders that China will never cede an inch of its territory or compromise with its sovereignty.
China has a clear plan of action, but many doubts persist — why is it pretending to be the “ultimate Good Samaritan” of the 21st century world? Does this come from Beijing’s genuine altruism? Will China succeed in its endeavour at the cost of other small, economically weak and geographically disadvantaged nations? Or will it succeed owing to folly, miscalculation, cupidity and avarice of the ruling class of the targeted BRI/OBOR/CPEC nations? And where does it all end, and how?
Let’s try to visualise what could be in store for India three decades from now.
Will a sovereign India continue to stand where it is standing since August 1947? Or will some unforeseen and unprecedented tectonic shift take place to change the demography and geography of Delhi? As has so often happened in the past!
Let’s revisit the contemporary ground reality of the Chinese polity’s unprecedented “look out policy”.
Today, China’s focus is on empty, sparsely populated land. The great heartland from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, wherein several countries face the grim reality of diminishing demography. Thus, of the 60-plus states which are under the Chinese radar for “non-geopolitical and non-geo-strategic” and “economics only” BRI/OBOR/CPEC, the population of, at least 23 countries are downhill. All these nations are to the west of the Ural mountains — Bulgaria (-0.8 per cent); Romania (-0.7 per cent); Lithuania (-0.6 per cent); Latvia (-0.5 per cent; Ukraine (-0.5 per cent); Croatia (-0.4 per cent); Hungary (-0.4 per cent); Serbia (-0.4 per cent); Belarus (-0.3 per cent; Bosnia & Herzegovina (-0.3 per cent); Estonia (-0.3 per cent); Albania (-0.2 per cent); Moldova (-0.2 per cent); Georgia (-0.1 per cent); Poland (-0.1 per cent); Russia (-0.1 per cent); Montenegro (0 per cent); Slovakia (0 per cent); Armenia (0.1 per cent); Czech Republic (0.1 per cent); Macedonia (0.1 per cent); Slovenia (0.1 per cent) and Turkey (0.1 per cent).
The vast Central Asian heartland’s steppe of Kazakhstan (2.4 births per child-bearing woman); Kyrgyzstan (2.7 births per child-bearing woman); Tajikistan (2.8 births per child-bearing woman); Turkmenistan (2.1 births per child-bearing woman) and Uzbekistan (2.2 births per child-bearing woman) too are “slow-moving upward-demography”. which crave for “development”. All the more as each of these five states is inherently handicapped — being landlocked terrain (some being “double landlocked”).
These are vast resource-rich territories with rickety infrastructure, poor transport, communications and connectivity. They are geographically connected as “one piece”, but economically disparate and disconnected, separate entities which understandably can find solace from the proposed Chinese action, if any. And this action, that ensures China is “going out”, rather than foreigners are “coming into China”, has already begun.
But no sooner did the Chinese “forward march” begin that a grim warning came from IMF managing director Christine Lagarde that “ventures can also lead to a problematic increase in debt, potentially limiting other spending as debt service rises, and creating balance of payments challenges”.
Notwithstanding Mr Xi’s investments worth billions of dollars into infrastructure development across the world’s “heartland”, two critical issues have already surfaced. First — In countries where public debt is already high, careful management of financing terms is critical. Nothing could be more specific and precise than what is happening around some of the targeted small countries of South Asia. And second — A challenge comes as it needs to be “ensured that BRI only travels where it is needed” — an “oblique reference” by Ms Lagarde to problems of insider dealing; a complaint which more often than not keeps cropping up from Balochis about Pakistan’s Punjab. “With any large-scale spending, there is sometimes the temptation to take advantage of the selection and bidding process”, a typical characteristic of “insider dealing” which could throw the entire planning out of gear, leading to unrest.
Despite the positive response from some developing nations to the Chinese approach due to “stringent IMF conditions on debt management”, symptoms of unrest are somewhat real. Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Laos, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Poland are already feeling the heat. Growing resentment of “sovereignty infringement” owing to the Hambantota port “takeover” by China and the uneconomic Mattala airport being the “world’s emptiest international airport” constitute Sri Lanka’s twin dilemma of BRI/OBOR. Bangladesh is facing sudden funding delays from the Chinese bank.
Indonesia grapples with land acquisition unrest. Pakistan’s unending problems of ethnic strife, Islamic fundamentalists, terrorist outfits, and “free for all and free for war”, along with the deployment of 15,000 designated soldiers to protect Chinese nationals across turbulent terrain constitute a constant real-time threat to BRI/OBOR/CPEC. Laos too has serious issues on hand as the “imported” Chinese “labour force” has created an enhanced feeling of deprivation and unemployment to “local workers”. Kazakhstan is facing a “dominant” and “dominating” Chinese presence in critical areas. Poland feels the heat from its neighbour Germany, which is trying to change its law to check Chinese entry into Germany’s crucial and critical sectors and Beijing’s propensity to buy high tech through its “cash power”.
It’s cash, cash and more cash all the way — to buy, take over, operate, bribe, acquire, prepare, dominate — far from the homeland, to bring distant lands under the homeland’s indirect suzerainty. A bid to extend and continue to “acquire without direct action”; operate without responsibility.
There’s no doubt there is method in the Chinese action plan, that has so far succeeded in checkmating, avoiding and even bypassing virtually all possible hurdles. However, all good things must come to an end.
Early 20th century geostrategist Halford Mackinder’s disturbing reference to China as “yellow peril” in his famous article
“The Geographical Pivot of History” seems to be dawning in the minds of all those who now feel threatened by Beijing’s shenanigans through all means, fair or foul. The most spectacular of all, however, is Beijing’s plan to get India involved thick and through.
Why? Because 49 European countries total 84.1 crore heads; 58 African nations constitute 115.3 crores; the two Americas (South and North) of 55 countries are 98.2 crores; the 25 countries of Australasia are 3.9 crores; but India alone is a staggering 130 crores. The picture is stark. It’s up to India to realise the ground reality, to understand its power, strength and wisdom, and play accordingly.