Sunday, May 3, 2015

“Bharat Mala” and the possibility for a Sino-India d├ętente!

More than 5000 km long connecting corridor between the western border with the eastern border, touching all  the border states in between, named “Bharat Mala” will not only bring in economic prosperity in the region but would be a game changer for the movement of personnel and goods during emergency either natural or man made. It would also be useful for promoting border trade with almost all the SAARC countries. Considering, however, that such a big project was announced just before Mr. Modi’s visit to China on 14th May’15, it may also be having some other wider ramification.
Except for the border clashes with India and Vietnam, rise of China particularly during initial phase was quite peaceful and most of the neighboring countries were benefited from its development. Once, however, China felt herself to be sufficiently powerful both economically and militarily, it started behaving like an arrogant rich bully trying to pick up disputes with almost all the neighboring countries either on account of land or sea boundaries. China was always trying to justify its claim based on some historical events without giving credence to reality on the ground or International Laws. In the process, today China is in an unenviable position of not having any friends worth the name except North Korea and Pakistan, both of whom are either a friendless, failed state or heading for the same. During peace time it could still be alright but things could be precarious in case hostility breaks out. The entire south-eastern rim of Chin, its industrial & economic hub, facing East China Sea and South China Sea is practically blocked by the island-chains and land boundaries of its hostile neighbors like Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam etc. not to mention about the combined force of USA and its ally Australia
Indian Ocean is very vital for China for meeting her energy requirement. But the route is not only very long with two choke points at both ends (Strait of Hormuz at the entry and Strait of Malacca at the exit) but is also virtually controlled by India who is constantly upgrading her sea control and sea denial resources. As explained above, things are manageable during the peace time but could be difficult otherwise.
To take care of the above mentioned problems, recently China has signed a MOU with Pakistan to construct a “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor” (CPEC), connecting Gwadar port in Balochistan province of Pakistan with Kashgar in Uygur Autonomous Region in Xinjiang province of China via POK and Gilgit & Baltistan. China has pledged about 40 Billion USD for constructing this CPEC! But not everything is very rosy about this project, as for example:
- Balochistan is in flames and but for its scanty population it could have easily got its independence like Bangladesh with some tacit support from India who would be willing, if provoked further.
- Since Balochistan is having a long land border with Iran, any deterioration of relation with Tehran will spell doom for Balochistan.
- Pakistan might have taken the right decision in not joining Saudi Arabia in its war against Yemen but turning a blind eye to your friend and chief financier may have far reaching consequence particularly since ISIS is financed by Saudi Arabia. Predicted loss of face of Saudi Arabia in war with Yemen may start the blame game & witch hunting.
- Uygur Autonomous Region is always a constant headache for China for its rebel Muslim population. Since Uygur rebels use Pakistan as a sanctuary, it is having the potential of spoiling China-Pakistan relation as well.
- Gilgit-Baltistan province of J&K is illegally occupied by Pakistan and China tacitly accepts that it really does not belong to Pakistan. People of GB are also trying to merge with India and would remain a hot bed of trouble.
- GB being earthquake prone, extremely mountainous with high altitude, road building will not only be extremely difficult & hazardous (danger of avalanche) but it cannot also remain usable for more than five months a year. Tunneling will be cost prohibitive besides technical challenge.
- Transporting goods from Kashgar to south-eastern region which is the industrial & economic hub of China would also take considerable time.
- The entire corridor is within the striking range of IAF and some portions are even within the range of tactical missiles or MLRS ( reverse situation of Pakistan army occupying Kargil heights in 1999)
- Navy is making a base at “Porbandar- Dwarka II” named INS Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel mainly to protect the coast of Gujarat and mount operation across the bay.
- India is negotiating with Iran and Afghanistan to develop Chahbahar port in Iran, just 75 km upstream of Gwadar and build a corridor up to Afghanistan and then to Central Asia. Since India will be controlling a sea port upstream, it will have better chance to control the Strait of Hormuz.

As against all these headache will it not be prudent for China to shake hand with Mr. Modi and settle the boundary issue (may be at the existing LAC) and use Bharat Mala for its logistic supply?
Entry point could be any port in Gujarat (all ports will be connected through road network as per Sagar Mala, as conceived by another visionary Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee)   and exit will be at the Myanmar border which is near their industrial & economic hub in the south-eastern region. China may even be willing to foot the bill which is estimated to be about 2.5 Billion USD….peanuts compared to CPEC! If need be, China could also use much shorter East West Corridor  connecting Porbandar  with  Silchar. This corridor is only 3300 km long and is nearly ready.
It’s a simple cost benefit analysis for two alternative investments. In one the investment level is very high coupled with very high risk and low expected return and in the other the investment level is very low with practically no risk and high return.
Sino-Indian relation is also passing through a transitional phase with immense possibility of going forward or heading for the doom. We could neither be called friends or even enemies. The vast border over which we fought in 1962 remained tranquil ever since except some flair up in eighties. Occasional incursions from both sides are more of rhetoric and were solved without firing a single shot, though it always had the chance of unfortunate consequences. If this border problem could be solved and we finally become friend, it will have profound positive effect not only on the region but the entire world! There are already plenty of occasions where India and China helped each other on international arena with profound effect.
For China who is really not having too many friends, it will ensure friendship with biggest democracy in the world with international standing and one of the fastest growing economy, having vast resources, skill manpower and huge market and land accesses. Considering expected labor shortage in China from 2040 and which is likely to become critical in 2050, it may be prudent for China to start shifting its labor intensive industries to India which will have labor elasticity even beyond 2050!
For India, solving problem with China will automatically solve the problem with Pakistan to a great extent and would free her resources for development. It’s a win-win situation for both!