While India has never been comfortable with the idea of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and has been constantly objecting to it passing through territories this country considers its own, the Ministry of External Affairs went a step ahead today, not only calling CPEC an "inherently illegal, illegitimate, and unacceptable" endeavour but also warning other countries against participating in the corridor, which the ministry said would be infringing on India's geographic sovereignty.
In the CPEC project, China and Pakistan are jointly building infrastructure that has been under construction in the Islamic country since 2013. Originally valued at $ 47 billion, the value of CPEC projects burgeoned to $ 62 billion in 2020.
Through the CPEC's 3,000 km route, the two partnering countries seek to create a series of contiguous economic and trade hubs with road and rail infrastructure, linking places like the centre of human rights violations by China such as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the new Gwadar port in Pakistan's more restive Balochistan province.
The CPEC is part of China's larger Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to spread Chinese investments in trade and connectivity infrastructure to bring central Asian and European markets closer.
While New Delhi's objection to the project passing through large chunks of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is not new, what has riled it up?
Last week, China and Pakistan extended a welcome to any country joining the multi-billion dollar economic corridor for "mutual (sic) beneficial cooperation". "We have seen reports on encouraging proposed participation of third countries in so-called CPEC projects. Any such actions by any party directly infringe on India's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said today. "India firmly and consistently opposes projects in the so-called CPEC, which are in Indian territory that has been illegally occupied by Pakistan. Such activities are inherently illegal, illegitimate, and unacceptable, and will be treated accordingly by India,” he asserted.
The heightened Indian resistance is because of China's newfound bedfellow, the Taliban 'government' in Afghanistan and Beijing's bid to link the rocky, terror-ravaged country by all-weather roads through Pakistan under the CPEC plan.
How imminent is the danger for India from CPEC?
Not much. Pakistan and China are desperately trying to involve other countries even as several CPEC projects have stalled due to big-ticket corruption, activism by the Baloch people and attacks on Chinese engineers and workers by Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists.
The project is behind schedule and only three of the total 15 CPEC projects announced are complete, all completed by the CPEC authority — Gwadar Smart Port City Master Plan, Physical Infrastructure of Gwadar Port and the Free Zone Phase-1, and Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute.
What is India's threat perception?
Whereas India officially objects to CPEC in the name of preserving its sovereignty and territorial integrity, the security threat is also military in nature, according to an article in Indian Defence Review dated 2018. Since the beginning of the construction of the corridor, the Chinese military presence in the area increased. In 2017, Chinese troops marched in the Pakistan Day parade in Islamabad, the first time the Chinese military participated in any parade outside its country.
The Chinese army then deployed about 30,000 soldiers under the local name in Pakistan. These soldiers would establish a security wing in PoK and later deployed around the CPEC projects built by the Chinese state-owned companies. Pakistan Navy officials are on record saying that Chinese naval ships would be deployed at Gwadar to 'safeguard' the port and trade that are part of this corridor.
China, while doing civilian work for CPEC, delivered eight submarines to Pakistan in 2018, after which The chairman of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIS), Hu Wenming confirmed that these were modified diesel-attack submarines. He then announced that the CSIC would set up a training centre in Karachi to that end.
Already, China has been encircling India in the Indian Ocean by a process geopolitical analysts refer to as the "casting of Chinese pearls". Chinese ports in Bangladesh and Myanmar have naval vessels built by China and a now economically ruined Sri Lanka got patrol vessels for its army and a variety of aircraft of Chinese make even as Colombo's inability to repay Beijing cost it the Hambantota port.
China's second naval base in Gwadar port after Djibouti in 2017 would be used to maintain the naval vessels and docks and provide some other services related to logistical support. Chinese military analyst Zhou Chenming had said that China should build this base for its warships. The PLA said the analyst's view was right.
The Chinese Navy is building a naval base similar to the base in Djibouti. A meeting of the then-chief of general staff of the Pakistan Army Lt Gen Bilal Akbar with Gen Li Zuocheng, a member of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of China, in Beijing ended in 2018 with the decision that China would build a military base near Gwadar on the Jiwani peninsula.
This naval base is hardly 72 km away from the Chabahar port in Iran that, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement of an investment of $ 500 million a few years ago, has been a non-starter. Gwadar, only 400 nautical miles (998 km) away from the western border of Gujarat, was meant to be a commercial port, but the presence of a Chinese warship in the area posed a security threat to India, as well as imperilled the Indian investment in Chabahar port. Of course, any country's collaboration with Iran will now be in limbo because of US sanctions against Tehran.