NEW DELHI: India said on Friday it had yet to decide about participating in the mega global trade initiative in Beijing next week, pressure mounted on Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to miss the opportunity of joining the Chinese-sponsored venture.

Tentative reports said India was likely to be represented by local embassy staff or academics at the two-day gathering of leaders and ministers starting on Sunday but a foreign ministry spokesperson said no decision had yet been taken on on China’s “Silk Road” initiative.

An added point of regional importance is that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be there.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay said: “The matter is under consideration,” and reports said this was a position the government has maintained since March when China extended an invitation. Since then, Beijing has stepped up efforts to get India to attend.

A senior advisor to former prime minister Atala Bihari Vajpayee said he would be participating in a non-official capacity. “The Chinese capital has been spruced up to welcome nearly 30 heads of state and government, besides representatives of over 100 countries,” Mr Sudheendra Kulkarni wrote.

“However, one country will draw pointed attention because of its absence. Unless Prime Minister Narendra Modi changes his mind, there will be no official Indian participation in BRF.

“If India chooses to stay away from BRI, it would be a highly short-sighted and self-defeating decision. BRI’s enormous benefits for India are self-evident. One, if India shows imagination and ambition, it has an opportunity to participate, on an equal footing with China, in infrastructure and economic connectivity projects to integrate South Asia, which is today one of the least integrated regions in the world. Two, beyond South Asia, India and Indian businesses would have opportunities to participate in BRI projects in Asia, Africa and Europe. Three, India’s “Act East” policy would get a big boost if India joined BRI. For example, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Corridor has the potential to act as a strong catalyst for the socio-economic development of eastern and north-eastern India (which is relatively under-developed), besides opening up India to countries in South-East Asia and to regions in southern China,” Mr Kulkarni said.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2017

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