India non-committal on China's Maritime Silk Route plan

India non-committal on China's Maritime Silk Route plan

India will remain non-committal on its support to China’s ambitious plan to revive the ancient trade routes, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi set to convey to Chinese President Xi Jinping over the next two days that peace and mutual trust in the region are pre-requisites for success of such plans.

“Successful revival of the ancient trade routes require not only physical connectivity and requisite infrastructure, but even more important, a climate of peace, stability, mutual trust and respect, support for mutual prosperity and free flow of commerce and ideas,” Modi said during an interaction with journalists from China on the eve of Xi’s maiden visit to India.

Xi is likely to arrive in Ahmedabad on Wednesday to commence his three-day-visit to India. Making a special gesture, Modi is likely to receive the Chinese President at a hotel in Ahmedabad. They will visit the Sabarmati Ashram together. He will host a private dinner for Xi at a park on the bank of Sabarmati and the two will have formal meetings in New Delhi on Thursday.

Modi’s remark came soon after Xi elicited a commitment from the Maldives to support and “actively participate” in China’s plan to build the 21st Century Maritime Silk Route. The Chinese President was on a visit to the archipelagic nation on the Indian Ocean from Sunday to Tuesday.

He arrived in Colombo on Tuesday for a two-day visit to Sri Lanka, where President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government too would possibly support Beijing’s plan.

Xi has been articulating the idea of a “21st century Maritime Silk Route” reviving economic connectivity between the Pacific and Indian oceans and linking China’s coastline with Southeast Asia, the Gulf and the eastern coast of Africa. He has also been proposing a “Silk Road Economic Belt” reviving the ancient link between China and Mediterranean through central Asia. His visit to Dushanbe last week saw Tajikistan pledging its support to his plan to revive the historic ‘Silk Road’. China has been trying to involve India in its ambitious transnational economic projects, particularly in the “21st Century Maritime Silk Route” and “Southern Silk Road” (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar corridor).

Wary of implications of China’s growing strategic footprints around it in the Indian Ocean as well as in Nepal and Pakistan, New Delhi, however, has been cagey in its response to the proposals from Beijing.
Modi on Tuesday did not straightaway rejected Xi’s proposal for transnational cooperation on reviving the ancient trade routes.

“The ancient trade routes in Asia included the Silk Route, the Spice Route and many other such routes. These were the channels of vibrant trade in the region and beyond and anchor of Asia prosperity. These routes promoted the exchange of ideas, cultures, art, religion and spiritualism. India, which was at the centre of several of these trade routes, shared its age-old wisdom with societies along these routes,” he said.

The Prime Minister added that the Lord Buddha’s message of peace spread through the ancient Silk Route and had a lasting impression on the Chinese civilisation.  “I believe that the re-emergence of the natural trading routes would make a major contribution to building a prosperous Asia in this century,” he said, even as underscored the need for peace and stability in region for the success of such projects.

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