US U-turn on China puts India in a fix
In a step which could see India put under tremendous pressure, the United States of America has decided to take a U-Turn from its initial position and is set to participate in China's One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, being organised in Bejing.
The event, is to showcase and build momentum for its new 21st-century silk route, both land and maritime, and other similar initiatives which would lead to increasing connectivity with Asian and European countries and solidify its place in the world as a major trading partner.
In India, along with concerns over its sovereignty, it is also seen as a continuation of Chinese strategy of 'strings of pearls' which China uses to flex its muscle in India's neighbourhood.
The step of the US has put India in a dilemma as the change in its stance is early signal that the Trump administration is reframing the US-China relationship, according to Jagannath Panda, from the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis, New Delhi.
India, which is still undecided on whether to send its representatives to the event to be held this Sunday and Monday, maintains that China has not built an environment of trust to carry out the belt and road projects.
The country's concerns on the Chinese project stem from what it perceives to be a lack of regard shown to issues raised by it that projects which are part of OBOR impinge its sovereignty.
For example, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is a part of the larger project, by which China is set to link the Xinjiang province with the Gwadar port in Pakistan and is to be built in Balochistan, passes through Gilgit-Baltistan region which India claims as its own.
Concerns such as these have led to the serious thoughts whether to send representatives to the event or not and if yes, officials of what level are to attend. Reports have claimed that the country may be represented by junior embassy level officials.
The thinking is that even if it does not attend, it may not lead to any immediate material loss to it as OBOR is not a membership-based organisation, and may even get India praise in certain quarters for taking a principled stand.
Other than officials, academics from India may be present at the meet which is to see representation from over 50 countries including organisations such the World Bank.
The US has now decided to send senior representation to the event, with an inter-agency delegation led by Matthew Pottinger, a top adviser to the Trump administration and National Security Council senior director for East Asia to take part.
But many see it to be a trade-off between the country and China after the latter's commitment to buy American beef as part of the Donal Trumps's '100-day plan' agreement, and in return, the US will not only attend the event but also allow Chinese banks to expand their operation in the US.
The decision seems to be a direct result of the meeting between Trump and the Chinese President Xi Jinping when the Chinese leader visited the US last month. Chinese vice-finance minister Zhu Guangyao is reported to have said, "We welcome all countries to attend. And we welcome the United States' attendance as the world's largest economy."
Out of the representatives of different countries, head of state's of more than 29 countries are to be present for the programme. And now with the entry of the US into the fray, along with countries like Britain and Germany, China's dominant position in the programme may be somewhat diluted.
Other countries that are taking part include Japan and South Korea, which have military differences with China, as well as other countries engaged in territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea issue, including Vietnam and Indonesia. Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka will also take part.
China may be put under pressure on the issue of transparency as other developed countries may ask for more details related to its plans, and whether it would follow internationally-accepted standards on environment and labour in the projects which include six economic corridors but have not seen any reliable map made available.
According to reports, Tom Miller, author of a recent book, China's Asian Dream, said, "What actually gets built will depend on what deals Chinese companies or the government make with other countries, abroad or on the deals that the Chinese government makes with other governments abroad, and no one knows exactly what those are going to be."