To allow Hindu nationalism to block New Delhi's involvement in BRI would be counter-productive, to put it mildly. China-India bilateral trade was US$70.08 billion last year. China is India's top trading partner.
Still, India launched an attempt at a counter-offensive last month when it joined the United Nations TIR convention, a global customs transit system with huge geographical coverage. India's TIR gambit covers only Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan, however. To think this might dent the appeal of BRI -- with its massive funds, support from the Silk Road Fund, the AIIB and further on down the road, private financing (from East and West) -- is, frankly, naïve wishful thinking.Stuff BRI, we've got AAGC
BRI is a juggernaut that has evolved over the past four years and is finally ready to launch its full connectivity firepower. Compare its resources with India's infrastructure predicament, its jungle of red-tape, its lack of funds for Eurasia-wide projects, and even the fact that its GDP growth dropped below China's in 2016.
There's also that pesky geopolitical open secret -- that Pakistan constitutes a de facto Great Wall blocking India's land route to the West and its expansion across Central Asia. New Delhi is trying to circumvent these facts on the ground by all means available.
These include the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), founded in September 2000 by India, Iran and Russia, and which could potentially connect India to Europe via the Persian Gulf; investing in a trade corridor between the Iranian port of Chabahar and Afghanistan; trying to copy BRI via its TIR gambit, but on the cheap, without massive investment in infrastructure. And, to counter what New Delhi brands BRI's "Sinocentrism," there's its purported trump card, unveiled by Modi himself at the general meeting of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in the capital of Gujarat last May -- the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC), supported by Japan.
The AAGC has been spun by India as a project "acceptable for the banking sector," as opposed to BRI's "government-funded model." In theory, the AAGC is about Asia-Africa integration. Japan brings its expertise technology and infrastructure building, India its "experience in Africa."
The AAGC was duly derided in Beijing as a New Delhi-Tokyo scheme -- aided and abetted by Washington -- to sabotage China's drive towards Eurasian integration. The case can certainly be made. New Delhi's multiple strategies, so far, have yielded more rhetoric than action.
Soon it may all come down to "if you can't beat them, join them." The ball is in the Hindu nationalist court.