India has once again decided to boycott the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) meeting organized by China, marking the third consecutive absence from this international gathering. The decision comes as India maintains its stance on sovereignty issues concerning the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) running through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and questions the financial sustainability of China’s projects in smaller nations, according to official sources.
The two-day Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRFIC) is seen as a significant diplomatic event for China. It’s being held amidst mounting criticism that the massive loans provided by China for various projects have turned out to be unsustainable debt traps for smaller countries, such as Sri Lanka, causing severe economic crises.
India’s main point of contention lies with the CPEC, a flagship project of BRI, which passes through territory claimed by India. India argues that this disregards its sovereignty concerns and insists that BRI projects should adhere to international norms, good governance, and the rule of law, prioritizing principles of transparency and financial sustainability.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu emphasized the importance of the BRFIC as the most significant celebration for the 10th anniversary of the BRI. Over 140 countries and 30 international organizations have confirmed their attendance, including state leaders, ministers, and representatives from the business sector, academia, and NGOs.
India Boycotts China’s Belt and Road Initiative Meeting for the Third Consecutive Time
Notably, Russian President Vladimir Putin will be in attendance, while several leaders of countries that have experienced challenges with BRI loans, such as Sri Lanka, will also participate. Sri Lanka, which owes a substantial portion of its foreign debt to China, has been struggling to restructure its debt. In response, India provided financial assistance to Sri Lanka and facilitated access to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout package.
The controversy surrounding BRI projects escalated when China took control of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port in 2017 through a 99-year lease as part of a debt swap. Other countries, including Malaysia and Pakistan, have expressed concerns over their ability to manage the debt associated with Chinese projects.
China remains committed to BRI, though there are signs that it may be reducing its investments, in light of its own economic challenges and growing requests from recipient countries to restructure their debt.
India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, recently cautioned nations in the Indian Ocean region to be vigilant about “hidden agendas” in unviable projects and unsustainable debt, which was seen as a veiled reference to China’s “debt trap” diplomacy.
While the BRI has reported significant Chinese investments abroad, there are growing concerns that it may be losing momentum, prompting China to shift its investment pattern towards smaller, geopolitically strategic projects. The future of BRI appears tied to the leadership of President Xi Jinping, who has elevated it to a central foreign policy initiative.
As China adapts its approach, it is increasingly financing projects with shorter repayment periods and focusing on smaller but strategically important countries, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, where it faces a growing strategic rivalry with the United States.