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C3S & NMF Event Report- Panel Discussion on ‘OBOR: Dream or Reality?’

C3S Report No: 0010/2017

The following is an event report of a C3S & NMF panel discussion held on May 19 2017.

Click here for viewing the Facebook live recording of the event: Video 1 | Video 2 

The Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) and National Maritime Foundation (NMF)- Chennai Chapter, conducted a panel discussion held on May 19 2017 at C3S, Athena Infonomics Building, Chennai. The event commenced with the welcome address delivered by Ms. Asma Masood, Research Officer, C3S. She introduced the moderator for the event, Colonel Hariharan and the panelists Commodore Vasan, Dr. Alagu Perumal and Mr.Ramananda Sengupta.

Col. Hariharan, VSM, Retired Officer of Intelligence Corps, India, started the session by acknowledging the fact that many experts have extensively discussed this topic. Nevertheless, the Colonel quoted Commodore Vasan’s view on how one should not listen to what China has to say but rather look at what they do. This concept was one of the basis on which the discussions were built. Col. Hariharan reminded the speakers of the Chinese dream i.e., their aim to re-establish the glory of their past.  In his view, their objective is to set up a new world order where China could relive the glory days of the Imperial period.In order to become number one the Chinese believe that they have to catch up with the USA. The moderator also used the example of Sri Lanka to raise important points regarding China’s investments in developing countries and their consequent fall into debt traps.

Commodore Vasan IN (Retd.), Director, C3S; Regional Director, NMF, Chennai Chapter, began his take on the issue by establishing the case that the concept of OBOR is not brand-new. Rather, it is an attempt to revive the ancient Silk Route. He took a stance that the establishment of the Maritime Silk Road would not have the said effect. Bilateral agreements and MOUs (Memorandum of Understanding) could still be signed. The likely impact of the maritime route is being exaggerated and over emphasized by many. The key point to note while discussing the issue is to discern the motive of serving Beijing’s national interest: China has been acquiring agricultural land outside its boundaries to solve the food security problems; it has been sending its labor force outside the country to work in African mines, all to serve the nation’s interests. The question raised at this point was why India should not take actions to protect its own national interest when China is clearly guided by such lines.  China has transgressed India’s national interest and has not respected its sovereignty. The reluctance of the countries to join the OBOR project, attributable to issues of transparency supports the stance that OBOR is a dream and not yet a reality.

Professor Alagu Perumal Ramasamy, Assistant Professor, Loyola Institute of Business Administration (LIBA), Chennai, analyzed the topic from an international perspective and asked a pertinent question: “What does China want to achieve?” The answer, he believed was the fact that China wished to achieve its former glory. He substantiated the above mentioned claim by pointing out how China is obsessed with anything on the superlative. Be it the tallest building or the largest airport, they have achieved it all. Attention was drawn to India’s portrayal in this scenario. The Prime Minister of India by not attending made a powerful statement and clearly expressed his disapproval with status quo. Furthermore it is too early to gauge whether India made the right decision and that the media needs to give the issue some time.

Colonel Hariharan, by adding on to this speech brought to notice a very important characteristic about China, which is their penchant for money and power. He elaborated on how the Belt and Road Initiative helps them pursue the above mentioned. He also analyzed how their habit of taking over other nations’ icons portrays their psychology.

The last panelist, Mr. Ramananda Sengupta, Senior Associate Editor at The New Indian Express , Chennai, brought the change in the name of the initiative from One Belt One Road to the Belt Road Initiative into light. The Communist Part of China by means of the initiative is trying to achieve hundred years of successful party rule and the feat of having connected two different markets. He concluded by talking about the Chinese dream and how China wants to portray the dream as one that is more ambitious and comprehensive than any other country’s dream.

The panel discussion was followed by an interesting set of questions from the audience.

Col. Hariharan delivered the vote of thanks.

(Compiled by Nappinnai Dhamodharan and Akanksha Soni, Interns, C3S. The interns are 2nd year B.A Economics student at Stella Maris College, Chennai.)

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