India’s refusal to China’s invitation to participate in the Belt and Road Summit could herald strained ties between the two neighbors. India’s disinterested response to the project of regional connectivity could get it closer to the verge of marginalization in the global economy after America withdraws from Trans-Pacific Partnership, an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Strange it is that a country which is one of the founders of Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB), the fundamental instrument to support OBOR along with the Silk Road Fund, refuses to participate in the summit. It is also a part of one of the six corridors of OBOR, Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Corridor, but still remains restive to advancement of OBOR.  

China is an unchallenged leader of infrastructure building in the world. Its model of investing in infrastructure is recommended by the World Bank as it increases the readjustment in case of economic and financial crisis. Asia, which is badly in need of reducing infrastructure bottlenecks to get on the path to progress, has $4 trillion gap of infrastructure construction. Since US and Europe battling with domestic crises at home, China stands to fill the vacuum. Now Beijing is at advantageous position with luck by its side along with expertise and experience in this field. India, on the other hand, does not hold any of such advantages at its side except the human capital and the attractive market it can offer to the world. Earlier, the US contained China by encircling it in the South-China Sea.  After Asia-Pivot failed miserably and Beijing drafted a policy of Going West, OBOR, now containing China seems to be a futile effort. TPP could have successfully impeded Beijing’s upward economic trajectory but US withdrawal from it leaves no alternative to India.  It would be sensible on India’s part to join OBOR as it joined AIIB earlier. India’s ambitions to emerge as a regional hegemon are here to stay, so long as Hindu nationalist leaders remain in power. Yet it needs to figure out how to ensure maximum participation in the global economy.

Global international order is slipping into a transition. The locus of power has become numerous, with some more powerful than others. In this transitory phase, China has emerged as one such locus emerging with relatively more power. Lately, a shift has been witnessed in its policy towards South and Central Asia, and towards the world in general. China’s BRI is driven by its conviction that, sooner or later, it is going to lead the world affairs. And also that it will emerge as a leader of economic activity in future, second to none. This unnerves the US and it responded with protectionism to China’s rise and America’s decline. So far, US has not been able to draft an effective policy curb increasing influence of China. China’s expanding influence in the regional and global affairs unnerves India too.  But fidgety responses won’t help nor the disinterested ones. Even China is getting Trump to yes what India has on its mind on giving a no to China. 

India is at a critical point of being threatened by marginalization in global economy after failure of TPP and Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership. It is prudent for New Delhi to join the bandwagon as North Americans and Europeans economies did. It will have to fashion its responses in a manner conducive to its own interests. It needs massive infrastructure development. Fortunately, it lies in the middle of both the land and maritime routes. It can work in New Delhi’s favor that China recognizes its role and offered him a forum to encourage coordination, boost cooperation and increase its stakes in OBOR. China has surplus and expertise in the field along with having excess capacity in power, industry and machinery.

With geo-economic benefits come the geo-strategic windfalls. Exuding timid response and lack of confidence in participating in an initiative spreading over three continents, India sends negative vibes to Beijing and the world in general. After Indo-US deal and increasing strategic ties between the US, BRI Summit, to be held in May this year, is an opportunity for India to get closer to its neighbor. Sooner or later, it will have to become a part of OBOR as, for now, its strategic partner is busy fixing issues at home. Insider holds a better bargaining chip than a disinterested bystander, the lesson India, needs to learn yet.