Xi Jinping
File photo of President Xi Jinping | Flickr
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New Delhi: The Belt and Road Forum may have ended on an amicable note in Beijing, but trouble seems to be brewing over the trillion-dollar infrastructure plan in India’s neighbourhood.

Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal are all taking a cautious approach now towards some of the projects that they had initially signed on for under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework.

Pakistan, which has been at the forefront of BRI due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), is now looking at a much trimmed-down version. Islamabad has already walked out of the $14 billion Diamer-Bhasha dam project that was part of the CPEC, citing stringent monetary conditions imposed by Beijing.

Since it was inaugurated in 2017, the BRI has come under scathing criticism from across the world, including the participating countries, due to lack of financial authority and weak environmental standards.

“There are several reasons why these countries, which are in our immediate neighbourhood and which had shown interest initially, are now taking a cautious approach. This is why this time President Xi had taken a more inclusive approach towards BRI,” said China expert Srikanth Kondapalli, who attended the summit this year in Beijing.

“Lack of transparency in loan repayment terms, difficulties in accessing finance and poor environmental standards are all making all these countries re-think their strategy,” added Kondapalli, professor of Chinese Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The joint communique that was issued post the conclusion of the forum stressed on the need to provide “diversified and sustainable financial supports for projects”.


Also read: A shorter Belt & Road by China will be even more dangerous


Friction with Pakistan

The latest three-day forum, which concluded Saturday, was attended by leaders from 37 countries. According to Chinese President Xi Jinping, deals worth $64 billion were signed.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan attended the forum this year, but not all seemed well as China was unable to convince Pakistan to revive the Diamer-Bhasha project.

In an unusual move, the deputy chief of mission at the Chinese embassy in Pakistan, Lijian Zhao, tweeted an editorial Monday criticising Khan’s government.

“Unless the country’s ministries, departments and institutions improve their performance, cooperation by China alone will do no miracles. Mr Khan’s invitation to foreign investors will not produce results if they continue to face problems in doing business,” stated the editorial in Pakistan Today, a leading national daily.

The unnamed editorial also stated that some of the measures taken by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government on climate issues and poverty eradication need to be “more realistic” and “more effective”.

Sri Lanka missing in action

Sri Lanka, another important partner in the BRI, refused to attend the forum this year. It had participated in the inaugural ceremony that took place in Beijing in 2017.

While Sri Lanka said the reason for staying away was last week’s terror attacks in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, the reality is that the country ‘boycotted’ the meet due to its experience in the commercially-failed Hambantota Port project, diplomatic sources told ThePrint.

In December 2017, Sri Lanka sold 70 per cent of its stake in the port to a Chinese state-owned firm on a 99-year lease, to repay the debt it owed Beijing.


Also read: What China’s Belt and Road Initiative is, and why India gave it a miss again


The case of Nepal 

Meanwhile, Nepal is still dilly-dallying on signing an agreement worth $56 billion to establish a Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network under the BRI, which also includes a cross-border railway.

The MoU was signed in June 2018 and it was expected then that the agreement will be signed during the second Belt and Road Forum — that just concluded — which did not happen.

While both sides had signed an MoU on the project, Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s government is apprehensive of signing the commercial agreement because of concerns over the financing of the project and environmental issues in the Himalayan region.

At the Belt and Road Forum Saturday, Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bhandari sought to draw attention to the impact of climate change in Nepal.

“The clock of caution is ticking louder when it comes to climate change,” she said. “Unfortunately, countries like Nepal are bearing the brunt of climate change despite their negligible emissions.”

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8 Comments Share Your Views

8 COMMENTS

  1. BRI is a good framework or a model of development that World Bank or similar institutions should look into. However Chinese BRI is a debt trap.
    Just Imagine how will Nepal pay back 56 Billion dollars in the next 30 years. If an interest of 2.5% pa is levied Nepal would need to pay 2.65 bln dollars every year for the next 30 years.
    The Highway connecting India and China can collect tolls or the power projects can sell power but things are going to to take time to generate surplus of 2.65 billion $ a year

  2. Due to bad weather in China where sea route not feasible to connect Iran looks future oil and Gass suply route from Iran via Pakistan is reason behind BRI

  3. This project is by Communist Party of China, for the people’s of China, to expand it’s geo-political reach and achieve it’s goal of rejuvenation. There is nothing for other countries except they become enslaved by Communist Party of China. It’s purely to expand their military reach. Mr Xi promised in front of then President of USA Mr. Barak Obama, at white House lawn to the global journo that “he will no militarized the Artificially reclaimed land in South China Sea. This project is for purely for helping other Nation in the region. ” What a great lier he is. World doesn’t need another Hitler. We have enough of him. Rest of the world must recognize the clear and present danger named Xi.

  4. What was east India company in 1800 is bri / cpec in 21st century . Idea is to finance projects to a bankrupt countries n take their critical asset to establish world dominance.

  5. Ant initiative can be decided worthwhile or not only by seeing the intention of the initiater. China is very cunning and it wants to dominate others. Any move from them to be checked carefully. Silakan port stake sale written in the article is best example.

  6. BRI is a worthwhile concept. However, it needs reworking. More rigorous cost benefit analysis, viability, debt servicing. Complete transparency in award of contracts. In some ways, scaling down from the level of ambitiousness that defines China’s domestic infrastructure projects, especially since 2008. Large segments of its High Speed Rail network will never be profitable. 2. Implemented well, BRI can advance China’s geopolitical interests. Conversely, each interaction that turns sour, as with Sri Lanka, makes the world more wary of its rise, noticeably less peaceful in the last decade or so.

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