India mulling over US’s B3W initiative

ANALYSIS
India mulling over US’s B3W initiative
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi taking part in the outreach session of the G7 Summit last month. India will be considering the US initiative of building infrastructure across the developing world with partner countries carefully as a counter to China’s BRI.ANI

At first sight, however, the democratic rival to China’s BRI ticks all the boxes that are important to India – transparency, partnership model of development and no fears of strategic encirclement.

Of all the decisions at last month’s G-7 meeting in the UK, the one with the greatest long-term economic and geo-strategic potential is US President Joe Biden’s proposal to build world class infrastructure across the developing world in partnership with participating countries.

The headline is tantalising, but no details of the plan, dubbed Build Back Better World (B3W), have been released yet – except that this programme offers developing countries mainly in Asia and Africa an alternative to the highly exploitative multi-trillion dollar Chinese infrastructure project called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The G-7 summit hoped the B3W would narrow the estimated $40-trillion infrastructure gap that countries across the world are grappling with.

B3W will complement the 3-nation SCRI

This project could fit in well with and complement the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) launched recently by India, Australia and Japan. The SCRI proposes to reduce the world’s dependence on China-centred supply chains, thus, de-risking global trade from over-dependence on one country. India and Australia were guests at this year’s summit at which the B3W was announced.

The Hambantota Port and Colombo Port City projects have given Beijing two important footholds in India’s backyard, courtesy BRI. Experts believe this is part of China’s “string of pearls strategy” to surround India and nullify its geo-strategic locational advantage

Once the fine print of the B3W programme is out, India could join it. P. Harish, Secretary (Economic Relations), Ministry of External Affairs, said: “I can confirm that the relevant agencies of the government will study the specifics of the proposal as appropriate at a later stage… The PM has emphasised that democracies should demonstrate that in the project implementation sphere, we can deliver not only within the country but in other countries also. The PM referred to India’s experiences in neighbouring countries, in African countries and in development framework partnership.”

A global rival to the BRI

The B3W scheme is being posited as the global rival to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s BRI, which envisages creating a modern version of the ancient Silk Route to connect Asia with Europe and Africa, with China at its centre.

More than 100 countries have signed up for BRI, though many of them, notably Malaysia, Myanmar and some others are having second thoughts about the terms of individual projects, which are loaded in favour of Chinese companies. These one-sided project agreements and opaque financing arrangements have pushed many participating nations into debt traps, which China then leverages to extract vital economic and strategic benefits.

Chinese workers at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port. The project is part of China’s controversial BRI initiative which is being viewed by many nations as a debt trap for countries that are unaware of Beijing’s ulterior motives.
Chinese workers at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port. The project is part of China’s controversial BRI initiative which is being viewed by many nations as a debt trap for countries that are unaware of Beijing’s ulterior motives.Gettyimages

Hambantota port - example of debt trap diplomacy

The Chinese acquisition of a majority stake in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port and the effective creation of a Chinese enclave in the form of the Colombo Port City are examples of how the Xi Jinping government first traps cash strapped governments in small countries with massive loans they can’t afford to repay and then extracts its pound of flesh by taking over strategic assets like ports or valuable mineral concessions.

These two projects have given Beijing two important footholds in India’s backyard, courtesy BRI. Experts believe this part of China’s “string of pearls strategy” to surround India and nullify its geo-strategic locational advantage vis-à-vis itself.

B3W will tick a number of boxes for India. It will complement the Modi government’s own initiative to build infrastructure projects in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar and Thailand and also in some countries in Africa
Indian foreign minister Dr. S Jaishankar with foreign ministers and officials of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar during a meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The GoI believes the B3W offers a rules-based, transparent partnership model of collaboration with neighbouring nations as a counter to China’s BRI.
Indian foreign minister Dr. S Jaishankar with foreign ministers and officials of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar during a meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The GoI believes the B3W offers a rules-based, transparent partnership model of collaboration with neighbouring nations as a counter to China’s BRI.

New Delhi wary of Beijing’s strategic goals

India has been vehemently opposed to the BRI, despite many attempts by Beijing to engage with it. The Modi government is primarily opposed to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the anchor project of BRI, as it passes through Indian territory under Pakistan’s illegal occupation.

New Delhi is also wary of allowing Chinese companies access to critical infrastructure projects in view of the longstanding border dispute. This suspicion has been exacerbated by last year’s unprovoked border clashes in which 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese intruders died.

The B3W will, therefore, tick a number of boxes for India. For one, it will complement the Modi government’s own initiative to build infrastructure projects in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar and Thailand and also in some African countries.

By promising a rules-based transparent financing system based on the partnership model, it promises more acceptable terms of engagement than BRI. This will be in line with the Modi government’s partnership model of development, which it has been practising in Africa and in its neighbourhood.

“Through B3W, the G-7 and other partners will coordinate in mobilising private sector capital in four focus areas – climate, health and health security, digital technology and gender equality and equity – with catalytic investments from our development finance institutions,” the White House said.

India is likely to welcome these points but the devil, as always, will lie in the detail. A more exhaustive analysis of the B3W initiative will have to await the announcement of a more precise roadmap.

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