The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and the Indian Ocean Region: Sentiment towards Economic Prosperity and Security Implications.


Byline: Salma Shaukat and Naudir Bakht

Table 1 Summary of BRI Economic Corridors

Corridor###Partners###Example Projects

Bangladesh-China India-###Bangladesh, India,###* China-Myanmar crude oil

Myanmar Economic###Myanmar###and liquified natural gas

Corridor###(LNG) pipeline * Padma

China-Central Asia-###Iran, Kazakhstan,###* China-Kazakhstan

West Africa Economic###Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait,###passenger train * Manas

Corridor###Qatar, Saudi Arabia,###airport modernization

China-Indochina###Cambodia, Laos,###China-Laos Railway *

Peninsula Economic###Thailand, Vietnam###Upgrade of Lancang-

Corridor###Mekong ship route

China-Mongolia Russia###Mongolia, Russia###* Altai LNG pipeline

Economic Corridor###(linking Xinjiang and

China-Pakistan###Pakistan###* Gwadar free zone

Economic Corridor###development * Karakoram

New Eurasian Land###Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech###* China-Europe freight

Bridge Economic###Republic, Greece,###trains (39 routes linking

Corridor###Hungary, Kazakhstan,###China with 9 European


The 21st century sees challenges to US hegemony, particularly within regional spheres, from a number of states seeking 'polar influence' in a multipolar world - including China and Russia. Yet another major state, India has chosen to be closely allied with the US, Japan and Australia. For both India and China, the Indian Ocean (IO) presents security challenges, exacerbated by China's increasing demand to ensure unrestricted energy supplies. "The paramount concern animating Chinese interests in the IO is energy security".1 Particularly the South Asian regional hegemon, India, has sought to ensure its security through pacification of the IO, having been colonized in the 16th century through this sea route. A contesting influence stems from China's 15th century exploration of littoral countries of the IO - known then in China as the Western Ocean.

There were trade missions to China from South India (691, 710 and 720), Sri Lanka (712 and 750), Java and Srivijaya (seventh and eighth centuries); and Sri Lanka "was a key staging post in the Persian Gulf-China trade". International merchants drawn to the port of Quanzhou (China) included "Arabs (Dashi) and Persians (Bosi)".2However, in the current context, Indian and Chinese security imperatives are at odds, leading to India's opposition to the China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

There are security and reputational aspects to China's return to the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as well as India's discomfiture about BRI. Beijing has built ports in the IOR to ensure supply lines for essential resources. Considering the geo-strategic and security perspectives, India is unwelcoming of port construction by China. Both wish to cultivate reputational advantage - that adds to soft power - in IOR, but have different methods of reputation building. As a state that some western scholars view to be on the cusp of hegemon-hood, despite its discomfiture, because it sees its pursuit of discourse power as the action of an anti-hegemon. China seeks both to assure others of the benevolence and rectitude of its actions in international relations, actions that are associated in international relations theory with a hegemon. China sees hegemony negatively, as akin to hard power - rather than as akin to soft power.3

"Hegemony, in what Reich and a post-hegemonic world, is said to require normative (leadership in international agendashaping), international economic management and sponsoring (of global initiatives) responsibilities"4 .

These three responsibilities may be carried out through diffusion of policies across national jurisdictions - policy transnationalization. A hegemon has an interest not only in influencing existing policy transnationalization processes but also in setting up new frameworks for policy transnationalization; and these latter projects are run in tandem with public diplomacy projects. Economic policy transnationalization projects accompany trade and investment initiatives and are generally insured by military security measures that facilitate the pursuit of wellbeing, wealth and skill-security meaning "the sharing of the values of well-being, wealth, and skill" for Lasswell.5Security from external or internal threats by other agents provides a matrix for prosperity that in turn becomes a context for positive sentiment - positive valence towards a benevolent external actor.

The objectives of this paper are to assess China's introduction into the IOR littoral of BRI; analyze the response of regional organizations and India to BRI in IOR; and examine frames of BRI in newspapers of selected IOR littoral countries. Following this introduction this article will address the following: (1) incipient hegemons' public diplomacy plexuses: (2) regional policy transnationalization spheres/multinational actors; (3) methods and findings and (4) discussion/conclusion.

Incipient Hegemons' Public Diplomacy Plexuses Hegemons

In the constructivist view of Onuf hegemony, hierarchy and heteronomy are three underlying rule types in international relations;6hegemony being "the acceptance of order (both pattern and rule) as given, natural, or self-evident".7

"Hegemonic legitimacy is a construct of the powerful, and the ruled are somehow seduced into the belief that their interests are thereby served....the question of what gives rise to the hegemon's legitimacy still remains...hegemony is socially bestowed, not unilaterally possessed".8 So, while a hegemon-in-themaking in the contemporary multipolar world, may seek, to set agendas, undertake international economic management and sponsor new global projects, it could not achieve widespread acceptance in the western liberal world using what Lasswell and Lerner call "coercive ideological movements" in the title of a book.9 Symbolic coercion would still be a case of Nye's hard power.10 A hegemon needs to build influence through gaining respect and this involves constructing messaging and policy around economic and military actions that register positive valence in targeted countries. This is apart from the cultural founts of soft power on which Nyehas expounded.11

Power transition theory suggests that a hegemon (such as the US) will be challenged by an up-and-coming great power (such as China) and that world order will be disrupted during the transition,12a phenomenon called the Thucydides Trap.13China has disavowed itself from this view ever since Deng Xiaoping solemnly declared in the UN General Assembly on 10 April 1974 - the People's Republic of China (PRC) having displaced the Republic of China (ROC) as the representative of China - that "China is not a superpower, it will never be a superpower. One day, as China becomes a superpower that engages in aggression, interference, bullying and exploitation of other countries everywhere, the people of the world should unite with the Chinese people to overthrow it".14Reich and Lebowargue that fears about China's rise are based on misperceptions.

They view China as engaging in a new kind of leadership characterized by a 'custodial economic management' that resonates with a post-hegemonic world. Suspicions however abound in some quarters as evinced by the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) - US, Japan, Australia and India.15

In the post-World War II era, the US sought to create a world economic and security structure imbued with its political values. The United Nations (UN) Security Council (security) and the Bretton Woods institutions (economic) were particularly important in this architecture, with the UN and its family of agencies adding to enhancement of wellbeing and skill-transfer through professionalization. Professionalization is "a return top status-ordering and reunion of hegemony and hierarchy' as a "trend in the late modern world".16While there was contestation of political values within the rule-based international system, intergovernmental institutions may be viewed as part of the larger policy transnationalization and public diplomacy project of the US.

In Lasswell's view "biologicals despair over mortality translated into personal insecurity (recognition of vulnerability) leads to projections of power in the politico-military, economic and cultural realms".17Military, economic and cultural initiatives, expansion or domination are determined by security interests in the broadest sense. States are social constructs that seek to shape domestic and international relations through messaging on values of an economic, security and cultural nature, values prioritized by politics, politics being defined as the social prioritization of values. Such communications may seek to create global order, as through the US-sponsored UN system with its goals of political and economic modernization and security, or new initiatives such as those of China in relation to its new economic policy transnationalization, security and public diplomacy initiatives that may be linked with the BRI.

The UN system was an incipient hegemons' security-economicsymbolic plexus, but because of the wider visibility of symbols, the term is truncated herein to incipient hegemons' public diplomacy plexus (IHPDP). The Chinese IHPDP, BRI, is not of the same scale and scope as the UN system; it also inhabits and draws sustenance from parts of the UN.

Mediation of economic and security policy transnationalization may construct frames of the nature of a great power that impact on sentiment and...

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