- India is pushing its own connectivity mantra with most of its international partners, but with very different rules from China.
- A glance at recent statements shows how India is trying to change the language of connectivity initiatives.
- Both India and US have stressed on the transparent development of infrastructure with due respect to sovereignty.
When India stood up against China’s OBOR+ in May this year, it inserted a new thinking to the whole idea of connectivity as an instrument of foreign policy. Until then, connectivity was how China would build its way through Asia and Africa using highways and rail networks — its excess capacity and capital creating fabulous infrastructure and debt underbellies.
India, too, used connectivity to further its own foreign policy, but not to the same effect. But as China continues to grow, connectivity as a foreign policy is being perceived as a certain threat by countries like India and Japan.
Therefore, since this summer, India has pushed its own connectivity mantra with most of its international partners, but with very different rules from China.
A cursory glance at joint statements between India and its international partners shows how New Delhi is trying to change the language of development aid and connectivity initiatives as well as getting its friends to agree.
In its most recent statement with Italy, the two countries “acknowledged the importance of connectivity in today’s globalised world. They underlined that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognised international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality and must follow principles of financial responsibility, accountable debt financing practices, balanced ecological and environmental protection, preservation standards and social sustainability.”
These are the contours of the Indian version of connectivity as compared to China’s OBOR.
The India-EU summit early September noted the same thing: “India and the EU acknowledged the importance of connectivity in today’s globalised world. They underlined that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognised international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness …”
Again in September, PM Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe pledged to work for a more connected world.
Their joint statement said, “strong commitment to work together to enhance connectivity in India and with other countries in the Indo-Pacific region including Africa … ensuring the development and use of connectivity infrastructure in an open, transparent and non-exclusive manner based on international standards and responsible debt financing practices, while ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, the rule of law, and the environment.” They further reaffirmed the importance of “quality infrastructure” which, among others, ensures alignment with local economic and development strategies, safety, resilience, social and environmental impacts, and job creation as well as capacity building for the local communities.
At the India-Afghanistan strategic partnership council meeting, the two sides “stressed the need to make the regional Transit and Trade Agreement more inclusive and comprehensive …”
The clearest iteration, of course, lay in the joint statement with Donald Trump in June, where both the countries said that they “support bolstering regional economic connectivity through the transparent development of infrastructure and the use of responsible debt financing practices, while ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, the rule of law, and the environment.”
Equally importantly, India and Russia, which is now much closer to China, plumped for this new definition of connectivity — “It should be based on dialogue and consent of all parties concerned with due respect to sovereignty. The Russian and Indian Sides being guided by the principles of transparency, sustainability and responsibility, reiterate their commitment to build effective infrastructure … ”
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