PM Modi is expected to discuss BRI and CPEC with US President Joe Biden

India has intensified its diplomatic efforts to counter China’s growing “illegal” activities aimed at expanding its footprints in Pakistan and Afghanistan on the pretext of China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC), which is a major part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). During his bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden in Washington later this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to explore “more effective ways” to deal with this challenge in the region.

People aware of the preparation for PM Modi’s State Visit to Washington (21-24 June) told The Sunday Guardian that PM Modi would expect “solid updates” from President Biden and the White House officials on the progress of the plan that the seven richest economies in the world, known as G7, had hammered out to counter China’s multi-million-dollar Belt and Road Initiative. “Since the infrastructure plan of G7 is being led by US President Biden himself, the Indian Prime Minister would be keen to know the progress of the same,” a source said.

In fact, more than a year ago, G7 countries had arrived at a consensus and offered developing nations an infrastructure plan, Build Back Better World (B3W), which can rival BRI. So, now with China adamant on extension of the CPEC to Afghanistan, as indicated by its Foreign Minister Qin Gang last month during a meeting in Islamabad, India is in a hurry to have an update on the international community’s efforts to counter the BRI propaganda. “CPEC’s extension may sooner or later integrate with Central Asia intensifying the BRI project. And this is also a significant and serious aspect that

India and the US cannot overlook,” an official said. Highly-placed diplomatic sources said that PM Modi and President Biden would also take a holistic view of China’s ambition and assertive behaviour to take a leadership role in Central Asia.

Sources said that the officials at South Block as well as the White House are carefully going through the Xi’an Declaration, issued after the First China-Central Asia Summit at Xi’an on 18-19 May. “The declaration in fact directly hits at the West’s ‘interference’ in the region in what signals China’s plan to increase dominance in Central Asia—a notion that should cause concern to both Washington and New Delhi,” people aware of the development told this newspaper. “China’s bid to assume a leadership role in Central Asia is being viewed as its attempt to counter the US-India strategy to contain Beijing in the Indo-Pacific,” an official said. “So, Modi-Biden talks will be quite significant in terms of exploring strategy to counter China’s infrastructure propaganda in the name of BRI and CPEC,” a source said.

More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure. PM Modi and Biden have been reaching out to many of these countries in an attempt to help them see through China’s real motives behind the projects.

India’s concern about the CPEC, the flagship project of BRI, is that it traverses through Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (PoK). The massive infrastructure project connects China’s Xinjiang province with Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. China has been defending the CPEC, saying it is an economic project not aimed at any third country. But India is fully aware of the real motive of China. New Delhi has refused to join the Chinese initiative in the past and raised its voice against the BRI.

While addressing a press conference on nine years of the Narendra Modi government, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar gave ample indications that India would oppose China’s BRI in a more aggressive manner. EAM Jaishankar on Thursday said India had not shied away and taken a clear stand on some of the crucial geopolitical developments, be it the Russia-Ukraine War or China’s military actions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Beijing’s promotion of BRI. Speaking at a press conference after the SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Goa, S. Jaishankar said, “On the so-called CPEC, I think it was made very clear, not once but twice in the SCO meeting, that connectivity is good for progress, but connectivity cannot violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity.” This is how Jaishankar has set the narrative and agenda for the upcoming meeting between PM Modi and Biden, diplomats said.

But a day after the EAM’s strongly worded reaction in Goa, Foreign Ministers of China and Pakistan appeared adamant on commitment to continue their cooperation on infrastructure projects. During the 4th edition of the Pakistan-China Strategic Dialogue in Islamabad co-chaired by Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang, the two sides reiterated their “abiding commitment to the high-quality development of the CPEC project”. China went to the extent of underlining the need for extension of the project to Afghanistan despite India’s serious objections.

Sources said that India will unlock the economic potential of the SCO region, in which Chabahar port and the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) could become enablers. Top diplomatic sources told The Sunday Guardian that the 7,200 km long INSTC connecting India and Russia is now rapidly coming to life. Sources said that all the stake-holders are working to remove operational roadblocks to ensure that INSTC is materialised as early as possible. “This will be a perfect counter to China’s BRI by India which has fast-tracked diplomacy to reach out to the nations concerned,” a source said.