China's Belt and Road Initiative: Perspectives from India
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Multilateralism is currently in doubt due to the growing protectionism of former dominant powers, like the United States (US). In contrast, China, an emerging power, has shown interest in securing a globalised world order through the promotion of regional integration and multilateral cooperation. Accordingly, it has implemented the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to reinforce the development of infrastructure and transportation and enhance global connectivity. Nonetheless, there is suspicion around China’s intentions with the project, particularly due to the lack of operational transparency. At this point, the BRI seems to primarily be perceived as a geostrategic tool for expanding Chinese influence at a global level. Despite its strategic location in South Asia, India is the first high-profile country to oppose the development initiative since its introduction in 2013. However, China might have changed its approach to the BRI since its launch some seven years ago. This invites an opportunity to map current perceptions of the BRI in India and the evolution of India’s stance on the initiative. The research question of this study is ‘How is the Belt and Road Initiative perceived in India?’. This question was addressed by thematic analysis of media discussions in India. The findings suggest that although China continues to emphasise win-win cooperation, the general consensus in the media in India is that the benefits of the project still seem to primarily accrue to China. Yet, the analysis in this study also shows conflicting views in the media as to whether and how India might commercially benefit from the BRI. The findings also indicate that China has not yet sufficiently addressed India’s concerns around the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to warrant India’s participation in the project. Apart from this, China’s growing presence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean has posed challenges to India’s strategic interests. In response, India has instead pursued strategic alignments with other major powers, including the US and Japan. Recently, China acknowledged that the long-term success of its BRI hinges on its efforts to address international criticism. The country’s attempt at showing greater accountability is perhaps most evident in the recent adoption of a sustainability framework and increased emphasis on transparency. However, in the Indian press, China’s response has, so far, been considered inadequate as China is still seen as failing to sufficiently address the key sources of India’s sovereignty concerns. As a result, India is not compromising on its position and is likely to remain firmly against the BRI for the foreseeable future.