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Should China's Silk Road Plans Be Linked With India's Mausam?

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First proposed by President Xi Jinping’s during his trip to Southeast Asia in October 2013, China's Maritime Silk Road (MSR) plan has attracted attention because of its potential to establish a Chinese foothold in the Indian Ocean. China’s outreach to India - inviting it to join the project - has generated much debate.

Ahead of this week's annual Defence Dialogue, China has once again expressed its readiness to work with India to link its ambitious MSR plans with India's 'Mausam' project in a bid to address New Delhi's strategic concerns and derive "common benefits".
 
Defence Secretary R K Mathur will lead the Indian defence delegation at the talks due to be held in Beijing on April 8-9 during which the two countries would discuss a wide range of measures to step up cooperation between army, navy and air force of the two countries.
 
Significantly, ahead of the key meeting Chinese Foreign Ministry said China looks forward to stepping up interaction with India to identify the meeting point for their strategic interests in South Asia, especially the Indian Ocean region.
 
"China is ready to work with South Asian countries, including India, Sri Lanka, to strengthen policy communication, identify the meeting point of their development strategies, explore effective ways of mutually beneficial cooperation and common benefit of the region, countries and the people," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told PTI.
 
She was responding to a question on China's Ambassador to India Le Yucheng's recent comments to media that China wants to have communication with India to link the 'Belt and Road' initiatives with New Delhi's 'Spice Route' and 'Mausam' projects.
 
During last year's Defence Dialogue, the two sides discussed prospects of joint naval exercises in addition to the 'Hand in Hand' exercises being held annually between the two armies to promote military-to-military relations.
 
Last month, a high-level Air Force delegation from India came here for the first high-level interaction.
 
According to officials, the Defence Dialogue covers talks on mutual perspectives on South Asia, the China-India relationship, bilateral military ties and issues relating to the borders.
 
The calls for policy coordination followed Chinese President Xi Jinping formally launching the multi-billion dollar Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road (MSR) projects.
 
The projects are also called the 'Belt and Road' initiatives and China has devoted a USD 40 billion-fund besides finance facility from its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) being launched with USD 50 billion capital later this year for them.
 
India has joined the AIIB as a founding member.
 
Xi also mooted India-China-Sri Lanka trilateral cooperation during his last month's talks with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena here.
 
The 'Belt and Road' projects aim at increasing China's influence in the region besides reviving its slowing economy.
 
The projects also plan to connect China with Europe and Africa by road, rail and sea.
 
The Chinese projects include Bangladesh-China-India- Myanmar (BCIM) Corridor and Pakistan-China Economic Corridor through PoK besides MSR which raises Beijing's strategic stakes in the Indian Ocean, especially in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
 
While backing the BCIM, India has expressed reservations over Pakistan-China Corridor as it runs through the disputed PoK and over the MSR which clashes with India's own strategic initiatives in the Indian Ocean.
 
Recent political changes in Sri Lanka have altered the dynamics of China's influence in the island, with Sirisena government putting the projects, especially the $1.5 billion-Colombo Port City project which is the key platform for MSR, in limbo.
 
China has been vocal about linking the 'Belt and Road' projects with India's Spice Route and 'Mausam' that are New Delhi's strategic initiatives to preserve its influence in the Indian Ocean.
 
The Spice Route refers to revival of old links between 31 countries in Asia and Europe with India, particularly spice- rich Kerala while the 'Mausam' project has taken shape during the recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka.
 
Last month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China's initiatives will be aligned with the development strategies of other parties, focussing on mutual benefit and complementing existing mechanisms for regional cooperation.
 
The fear of being left out of its commercial benefits may lead many nations to uncritically accept the project as an economic and strategic enabler. Since the project proposal comes coupled with the “New Silk Road” – a land infrastructure project that envisages the development an ancient route connecting Western China with South and Central Asia – it will be hard for national policy-makers to desist from signing up. How will India react this time? Only time will tell.