China and India sail into choppy waters in New Great Game

Looking out at the port of Chabahar. Photo: Reuters / Raheb Homavandi

 

This shadow play is a heady vortex, churning with power projections, spheres of influence, security and commerce

The New Silk Roads, known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), will weave and interconnect six major economic corridors. At 12,000 kilometers, the Eurasia Land Bridge Economic Corridor is a rail network from eastern China to western Europe via Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus.

Then there is the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor, while the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor runs from Xinjiang to Istanbul. Nine new road links in the Greater Mekong help make up the China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor.

The Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor, which includes an oil pipeline from the Bay of Bengal to Yunnan province, is also at the heart of the Silk Roads project, as is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC. This spreads out from Xinjiang to Gwadar and includes fiber-optic links, economic zones, new highways and port investment.

Finally, there is the Maritime Silk Road, lapping from the shores of southeast China toward the Indian Ocean and the Horn of Africa before rolling on to Venice in Italy and Rotterdam in The Netherlands. At the heart are ports and logistic infrastructure.

Still, much has been made of the fact that Islamabad has been excluded from the $14 billion CPEC deal to build the Diamer-Bhasha Dam. Media claims at the time suggested that Chinese financing terms were not in Pakistan’s interests. The media there also reported that Beijing’s demand to use the renminbi in the Gwadar Free Zone would compromise the nation’s “economic sovereignty.”

But then, the $57 billion CPEC initiative is actually a many-headed hydra, featuring a long-term plan to build on an initial 2014 program of 33 infrastructure projects by 2030. Of those on the original list, 21 are energy-related, 16 concern power generation and transmission, while eight are related to the development of Gwadar port. Another four involve transport projects.

Rough deal

Strategic corridor

India has already finalized plans to build a 900km railway from Chabahar to Bamiyan in Afghanistan and is already building a 220km road in Nimruz, which will be extended to Chabahar. That will make Chabahar port an essential economic and strategic corridor, linking India to Afghanistan and Central Asia. As I reported for Asia Times back in 2009, this is all about Balochistan as a key hub in the New Great Game in Eurasia.

Door of perception

The door is open for an India and Iran political, economic, trade and investment partnership, which could evolve into a strategic alliance. India, as we know is part of the part of the BRICS, while Iran eventually expects to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO. Already this could see the BRICS and the SCO converge politically and economically through trade development.

The Chabahar strategy received a big boost last Sunday when Iranian President Rouhani inaugurated a new port extension, which will be served by an international airport. This will link Chabahar not only to the North-South Transport Corridor inside Iran, but to the Transportation Corridor, or INSTC, which stretches from Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf to Russia, Central Asia and Eurasia before connecting to Europe.

“In future, if PLA Navy ships operate from Gwadar, it will be a matter of concern. We will have to think of ways to mitigate the challenge,” said Admiral Sunil Lanba, head of the Indian Navy at its annual press conference.

Naturally, the Iranian Navy has a base in Chabahar. But for New Delhi, what matters is Gwadar with the Pakistani Navy buying eight
new submarines from China. So Admiral Lanba went to great lengths to reassure his audience. “We are deployed 24/7 in key areas in the Gulf of Aden to the Strait of Malacca besides the Straits of Sunda and Lombok,” he stressed.

This translates into India pushing out into the Indo-Pacific. And that does not even address the more intractable balance of power issues involving the country and neighbor Pakistan. Problems there include India investing in a missile defense system, which in theory could neutralize Pakistan’s nuclear second-strike deterrent.

It makes this a heady vortex churning with power projections, spheres of influence, security and commerce. In the end, the only certainty is this shadow play involving China, India, Iran and Pakistan, with the US as an active third party, is at the heart of the New Great Game in Eurasia.

Full article: China and India sail into choppy waters in New Great Game (Asia Times)

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