The opportunity of hosting the African Development Bank meeting from 22nd to 26th this month was utilised by India to hitch itself to Japan’s “Asia-Africa Growth Corridor” plan. The plan also has a well-known code name – “Freedom Corridor”. Some Western and Indian media are also trying to link the plan with China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative, which is an attempt (by them) to get India to try to balance China’s “One Belt One Road” because it (the latter) also aims to connect Europe and Asia.
“Freedom Corridor” plan reveals a “sour grapes” psychology
In fact, as early as Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Tokyo last November, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that they “will promote the extension of the Freedom Corridor from Asia to Africa”. Indian Finance Minister Jaitley recently visited Japan to discuss “Freedom Corridor” cooperation and other related issues with Japan once again. This time, India and Japan chose to recommend their “Freedom Corridor” plan to African countries soon after conclusion of China’s “One Belt One Road” Summit Forum, “more and less” with some “sour grapes”.
As an article in the Indian Economic Times says, India and Japan have decided to launch a diversified infrastructure program from Asia-Pacific to Africa, the so-called “Freedom Corridor”, in the face of China’s “One Belt One Road” corridor program to work together to build a number of infrastructure projects in Africa, Iran, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asian countries to balance China’s regional outreach.
Is the Indo-Japanese “Freedom Corridor” plan (just) an attention attracting slogan? It seems not, for there are quite a few action points. Such as: the two countries decided to undertake joint ventures in East Africa in infrastructure and capacity-building projects; Japan will also participate in India’s important strategic Chabahar port and “coastal special economic zone” plan in Iran, the Trincomalee port in eastern Sri Lanka. At the same time, the two countries may also jointly develop the deep sea port of Sittwe on the border between Thailand and Myanmar.
During the meeting of the African Development Bank, India and Japan met the African Development Bank Member States to discuss joint development projects such as infrastructure and capacity building in order to promote the “Freedom Corridor” program from Asia Pacific to Africa, while strengthening contacts with India and Japan.
The conference was hosted in Modi’s home town, the city of Ahmedabad, which is the ancient capital of Gujarat, India. It is evident that there has been a surge in India’s “great power ambitions” after Modi coming to power, but “great ambitions” can be sustained only on a strong foundation of economic strength. In recent years, India’s economic development has been rapid indeed, with GDP growth rate of about 7%. In 2016, total economic output reached 2.09 trillion US dollars, about a fifth of China’s, but India’s infrastructure is very deficient and the level of construction capacity manufacturing is also low likewise.
Not surprising that India sees Africa as its “backyard”
Africa has always had a special place in the eyes of Indians, the Indian government has attached great importance to Africa, and some people even see Africa as India’s “backyard.” At present, some of India’s enterprises in Africa are minor celebrities. India’s “Tata” brand car can be seen everywhere in the streets of Johannesburg, South Africa’s economic cente. In addition to the government’s “Africa Focus” program, India itself has many traditional advantages. Therefore, India regarding Africa as its “backyard” is not surprising.
First, from a historical point of view, India attaches importance to and utilises its “kindred” ties with Africans of Indian origin, Indians in Africa and Commonwealth Indians in these countries. There are 2.8 million (such) Indians in Africa, mainly living in South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. India uses their connections with the Commonwealth to deepen relations with Africa.
Secondly, India often emphasises its geo-political and democratic links in working its way in Africa. The Indian Ocean is the “Indian backyard” connecting India and Africa. India has always attached importance to peacekeeping operations in Africa. The Indian Navy is also very influential in Africa, and many countries along the Indian Ocean with Navies have military relations with India.
Further, India attaches great importance to its expertise in information technology, as well as the use of seasoned private enterprises, to moderate the downside of the country’s entry into Africa. India has officially launched the Pan African Electronic Network Connectivity Program. Plans to connect India and 53 countries of the African continent through satellite and fiber cables.
But even with so many factors and measures, Africa is clearly not “India’s Africa.” Some media believe that geopolitical factors must not (be allowed to) infiltrate the India-Japan “Freedom Corridor” initiative cutting across from the Asia-Pacific region to Africa, as that would result in a kind of unhealthy competition.
The author believes that there is a disconnect between India’s great power the ambition and its current strength. It would be an extremely unwise move for India and Japan to look upon the “One Belt One Road” initiative advocated by China in antagonistic terms. On the basis of his interaction with people from all walks of life in India, the author considers that the main reason for reservations (on the part of many in India) on extension of the “One Belt One Road” to India is their view that “China does not accord any special consideration to issues that are sensitive for India”. These being not only the iconic project of the “One Belt One Road”, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, crossing disputed territory but also the armed opposition groups in India’s North east, which are a major security concern for India and on which cooperation in China with these areas is not easy, naturally.
However, India also has a lot of China scholars and experts who advocate that the “One Belt One Road” should be extended to India and that “China and India should (engage in) dialogue, and not harbour distrust”. India’s officialdom adopts an attitude of indifference towards the “One Belt One Road” but the “big power mentality” comes in the way. It can neither resolve the border problem left over by history nor fundamentally do away with “security concerns”. India must emancipate the mind, and change its thinking and mentality. And remove the psychological fear of China through dialogue, relating/connecting and exchanges. Harbouring suspicions will only worsen China-India relations. ▲