Wednesday 28 September 2016
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China Invites India to Join Its Ambitious Silk Road Projects

K J M Varma/ Xian

Giving final touches to its most ambitious plan to build a wide network of new silk roads on land and seas to enhance global connectivity, China has invited India to join President Xi Jinping's pet project that would revive the ancient trade route and benefit the region.

"From historical point of view India is the converging point of Maritime Silk road (MSR) and the ancient Silk Road on land. For more than 2,000 years India had very good exchanges with China through the passage of the South Silk Road," Gao Zhenting, Councillor, Department of International Economic Affairs, told PTI.

"So in China we have a belief that China and India both placed the trail of silk roads and MSR and we both have benefited from the roads," said Gao, who oversees the Silk Roads projects that involves a maze of highways on land and port connectivity by sea.

The projects were expected to revive China's trade links specially its sagging exports besides globally enhancing its sphere of influence.

Throughout the history of Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road many scholars and businessmen from India visited China and still many Chinese remember the names of many of them and stories, he said.

Gao took a team of diplomats and journalists to showcase China's preparations to build the New Silk Road (NSR) from the historic city of Xian, once the flourishing capital of imperial China.

The road enabled China's famous Buddhist scholar Xuanzang to visit India in 600 AD and return with treasure trove of Buddhist scriptures.

According to the recent Encyclopaedia of 2000 years of cultural contacts between India and China, Xuanzang, an ardent Buddhist scholar, visited India traversing through the ancient Silk Road of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan and entered the undivided India.

Xian houses the Wild Goose Pagoda, built in memory of Xuanzang's visit to India.

"The Chinese government believes that India naturally is an important partner in this One belt and One Road," Gao said.

"We are open to all friendly neighbouring countries to participate in this one belt and one road but of course we will not force any one to join nor we will give up if someone is not taking part," he said.

Gao denied the new projects were aimed at establishing China's influence, saying Beijing is not aiming to establish influence nor will it establish a new mechanism for the Silk Roads.

"By saying inclusiveness we are not aiming to establish new mechanism or aiming to have our sphere of influence and also we do not say no to other existing cooperative mechanism," Gao said, referring to Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, ASEAN and APEC and other similar organisations.

Stated to be the most ambitious project of its kind, China's plans included revival of the ancient Silk Road, starting from Xian and possibly to Constantinople through parts of Pakistan, central Asia and Turkey.

The second Silk Road is called the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) and the third one was the revival of the MSR connecting China's Fujian coast with Asia and the world.

China also links its proposed Economic Corridor through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as part of Silk Road project.

India has expressed reservations as it runs through disputed region.

A Pakistani diplomat in China, Shazab Abbas, who was part of the delegation, said his country will be the "harbinger" for implementing the Silk road project.

"The (China-Pakistan) Energy Corridor will be built on the ancient silk road which practically passes through Pakistan and link with Middle East and India," he said, adding the corridor will be game changer for the entire region and a driving force for real cultural and economic integration.

For its part, India do not have direct link with NSR as it runs through parts of Pakistan.

The Wagah border point is closed for Indian goods other than selective bilateral trade. India has no direct access to Afghanistan and Central Asian countries.

India, however, is linked to BCIM and the MSR. While New Delhi has endorsed the BCIM, it sought more details from Beijing about MSR for which China plans to make effective use of the newly developed port in Sri Lanka and Pakistan posing strategic concerns to India.

Gao said the final blue print of the Silk Roads will be released in about two months. The final document was expected to contain details of the extent of road networks.

He said the countries in this great plan include those from South West Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, East Asia including nations like Russia, Mongolia, to the Russian confederation and courtiers in East Europe.

"We believe all ports along the road is very important and priority will be given to establishment of certain zones and parks in the areas. Maritime cooperation and security of maritime navigation are important," he added. 

The road projects include infrastructure connectivity, industrial investment and trade cooperation besides cooperation in energy, financing and people-to-people cooperation. It also covers ecological and environmental protection and maritime cooperation, Gao said.

The emphasis for the new road initiatives will be infrastructure.

Funding for the projects was expected to be provided by the newly established BRICS Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank (AIDB) being set up by China for which it has invited India to be a member of it.

Chinese analysts say China has already invested over USD 1.2 trillion of its USD 3.95 trillion in US Treasury bonds besides billions of dollars and Euro and other international bonds.

The BRICS bank and AIDB could provide new openings for safe Chinese investments.

Gao said the silk road projects brings about new opportunities of cooperation between Indian and Chinese business firms as well as an opportunity to increase Chinese investments in India as it involved development infrastructure including building of roads and rail and highways, power stations and heavy equipment.

"We are now having good cooperation and will have more opportunities in future with potential for further opportunity development infrastructure," he said, referring to India's latest five year plan placing emphasis on infrastructure development.

This provides advantage for Chinese firms to work with their Indian counterparts, he said.

This will also help India to attract some of about 100 million Chinese tourists who visited abroad last year.

"To promote infrastructure and facilitation of visa services will bring more Chinese tourists into India," Gao said.

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