It was in 2013 that Chinese most powerful man and its President, Xi Jinping, launched 

by Brig Arun Bajpai

Chinese ambitious pet project Belt and Road, which they also call as new Silk Route, involving construction of Rails, roads and ports globally with Chinese money investment and expertise. Basic aim being that while China sustains its overcapacity in industry, storage and products, the receiving countries get their infrastructure improved, so both benefit. Initially Chinese invest billions of dollars which the receiving country pays back with interest over a period of time. All was hunky dory but now after five years countries receiving this largess are grumbling that China is putting them under debt trap, which they will not be able to come out with. Some are even calling China as new East India Company, which is colonising Asia and Africa.

Last month in August, Malaysian new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad had gone on state visit to China. There he politely shelved three China backed projects including a 20 billion rail project, all parts of this Belt and Road concept. The Tehrik-I-Insaf Party of new Prime Minster of Pakistan, Mr Imran Khan, has vowed more transparency in China's 60 billion dollar investment programme CPEC in Pakistan again part of Chinese Belt and Road Project. Within Pakistan now voices are being raised against this Chinese investment. Knowledgeable people are saying that Chinese investment is only about 11 billion, which is coming for rail and road projects. Rest are all loans taken at high interest rates from Chinese companies for production of electricity. They are saying that these electrical projects will be run by the Chinese, from whom electricity will be purchased at the rates as high as Rs 8.5 per unit .Even the coal will come from China for these electrical plants.

The labour for this entire CPEC is coming from China. It has now being revealed that China has sent their hardened criminals languishing in their jails to work for CPEC, at very cheap rates. China has also been granted permission for setting up exclusive economic zones in Pakistan. Pakistanis fear that this will be death knell to Pakistani industry, who will not be able to compete with Chinese industry. Biggest worry that Pakistanis are now voicing is that they will never be able to pay back this 60 billion dollars Chinese loan, with interest and will be caught in debt trap.

Sri Lanka has already paid a very heavy price for being highly indebted to China. Last year this Island nation had to grant a 99 year lease on a strategically important port of Habbantota to China over its inability to repay a loan of 1.4 billion taken from China for development of this port by China. A study by an international think tank Centre for Global Development has found serious concerns about sustainability of the sovereign debt in eight countries receiving Silk Road Funds from China. These are Pakistan, Djibouti, Maldives, Mongolia, Laos, Montenegro, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan .Just to give an Idea of these Chinese loans, China has quoted cost of China-Laos rail project, part of Belt and Road, as 6.7 billion dollars which amounts to almost half of Laos GDP. Africans who have long embraced China as biggest trading partner are now getting wary of this Belt and Road project and are assembling in Beijing on 4 Sep 2018 to discuss this issue.

All said and done Chinese may have been successful in selling off their Belt and Road project five years back, as a bonanza from the sky, but now the receiving countries are getting wiser. They are now realising that this Belt and Road Project is mainly to benefit China and that whatever benefits are coming to them apart from development of infrastructure are peripherals. It is a also a fact that most of these countries, where Belt and Road project is flourishing, are not developed and are not in a position to pay back the loans taken from China, even though China is claiming that the trade with these countries have gone up to five trillion. In other words China has found a new economic way to colonise these countries. It is good that India right from the beginning has opted out of this project. India must go all out to warn these countries in the debt trap that they are falling and may be come out with its own project to negate this Chinese project in collaboration with Japan and US. India must not forget that hidden aim of this Chinese Belt and Road project is to encircle India.

Brig Arun Bajpai (Retd) is a distinguished Defence and Strategic Analyst. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN. IDN does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same