Where we are concerned, this is a national Chinese initiative. The Chinese devised it, created a blueprint. It wasn’t an international initiative they discussed with the world… A national initiative is devised with national interests, it is not incumbent on others to buy it.
Further, the PRC’s approach to dealing with the Bhutanese and South China Sea disputes increases the perception that China is unwilling to prioritize regional harmony over its nationalist objectives. If China is not willing to respect India’s sovereignty concerns and demonstrate a more multilateral approach to BRI planning to alleviate its neighbor’s security concerns, the existing bilateral tensions are unlikely to subside.
The Belt and Road Initiative is an ambitious project that could dramatically shift regional and global security alignments; however, China’s vision of the BRI as a mechanism to achieve “more in-depth regional cooperation… that benefits all” is at risk. By its heavy-handed treatment of sovereignty disputes, China has lent credence to critics of the BRI who see it as a nationalist endeavor rather than a program of international cooperation. Further, China’s implementation of the CPEC has alienated a potential partner in India. Fueled by suspicions of China’s ulterior motives, India has increased cooperation with other powers to balance a rising China and announced a competing vision for infrastructure development. New Delhi’s actions belie a trend toward polarization that is likely to continue unless either China or India changes course. Indian efforts to balance China present the United States with an opportunity to continue deepening security and economic ties with New Delhi; however, Washington must tread carefully so that it does not militarize its foreign policy with China. In exchange for supporting India’s development and security goals, the United States could gain a partner democracy that can shape the rise of Asia from within and promote regional adherence to the international rules-based order.
Mitchell J. Hays is an active duty Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, a test pilot and a student at the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of the Naval War College, the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.