Jabin T. Jacob, ‘China, India, and Asian Connectivity: India’s View’, in Kanti Bajpai, Selina Ho and Manjari Chatterjee Miller (eds). Routledge Handbook of China-India Relations (London and New York: Routledge, 2020). 315-332.
Connectivity when it occurs across borders is usually understood in terms of physical connectivity in the form of road and railway routes primarily for the purposes of trade. The governments of India and China have long used physical connectivity and infrastructure development projects as part of their overseas development initiatives in the belief that this was necessary to develop capacity in sovereign states as well as exchanges between them but also for the purposes of diplomatic advantage. With its launch of the Belt and Road Initiative, however, China has begun to scale up its objectives from physical connectivity projects abroad adding substantially more forms of connectivity including the spread of ideological views, access to digital data as well as people-to-people contacts. The chapter also looks at the domestic views and consequences of connectivity projects abroad before ending with a look at how India has responded to Chinese connectivity projects.
Physical connectivity across borders is not a new idea in Asia. Even following Partition in the Indian subcontinent, it was only over the decades and as a result of increasing tensions in the respective bilateral relationships that many connections or networks were blocked or gradually fell into disuse. For example, it was not until the India-Pakistan war of 1965 that riverine transportation between India and then east Pakistan ceased completely. In other areas, however, especially along India’s borders in its northeast, border communities and trade in both traditional goods as well as more modern products continued to range across borders freely no matter the legal regimes in place governing such flows. This latter fact was equally true of China, for example, in its south along the borders of the ethnic minority-dominated provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi with Indochina. And, it was not until following the March 2008 protests in Tibet that the Chinese government was able – owing to both its rising global political influence and economic capacity – to clamp down on the flow of Tibetan refugees southwards with the cooperation of the Nepalese government.
Nevertheless, it could also be argued, especially, in the case of China, that much of the contemproary expansion of physical connectivity projects is based at least notionally on the idea that such connectivty existed in the past – the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, yidai yilu) for example, has been explicitly advertised as being a revival of the ancient Silk Roads as is evident from the names of the two primary prongs of the project – the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB, sichouzhilu jingjidai) and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR, ershiyi shiji haishang sichouzhilu). But the reference to the ancient Silk Roads should also remind us of the fact that it is also more readily understood – if not always easily accepted or admitted – that physical connectivity is accompanied by potential connectivities of other sorts – economic, cultural, ideological.
This chapter focuses in the main on the wider aspects of connectivity that go beyond just physcial connectivity. It argues that the Chinese especially are beginning to redefine the concept of connectivity that has hitherto largely been limited only to physical, and to an extent financial, connectivity for purposes of trade and commerce to one that encompasses wider political, ideological, cultural, military and social linkages.
The chapter is divided into five sections. The first provides a brief historical overview of Indian and Chinese objectives behind their physical connectivity projects whether at home or abroad while the second attempts to conceptualise the notion of ‘connectivity’, and especially how China has redefined it under the rubric of its BRI. The third section looks at some of the domestic consequences of engaging in ambitious connectivity projects howsoever defined for India and China while the fourth offers some case studies on how Chinese connectivity projects work in practice in South Asia. This is then followed by a section on India’s responses to Chinese connectivity initiatives before the chapter closes with a brief conclusion.
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