Entangled Development in Disputed Territories

September 23, 2016

The right to development of populace residing in disputed territories is being left unattended in international development discourse.

In recent weeks, formal oppositions against development projects in disputed territories have taken centre stage in bilateral, regional and global politics. While the Philippines released photographs of the construction of structures by Chinese vessels in the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea during ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, India beefed up its protests against Chinese sponsored $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in the disputed Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). Are these formal protests against development finance symbolic or substantive in Asian quicksand? Will the disputes between or among countries obstruct the overall development of the region and the populace residing in those areas?

Since May this year, India has been conveying its concerns to Chinese sides at the highest levels to cease the activities of some of the proposed projects under CPEC in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) in PoK, the parts of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir under Pakistan’s illegal occupation as consistently positioned by India. However, the Indian Prime Minister’s mentioning of Gilgit and PoK in his speech on the 70th Independence Day of India on August 15th has flared up the CPEC discontentment in both China and Pakistan. From orchestrated rallying of people of G-B against the Indian Prime Minister’s speech in PoK to Chinese intelligentsia’s knee-jerk remarks coupled with frenzied public opinion in India, all have together brought up the CPEC focus in South Asia + China but in a lopsided manner.  

While the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has maintained a cautious approach by clarifying that the CPEC is ‘not targeted at any third party, a state-owned Chinese newspaper -Global Times- carried the headline on 16 August as ‘India should adopt an open attitude toward the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The newspaper also said that ‘the CPEC is not a zero-sum game where Pakistan gains and India loses’. In an immediate response, Pakistan PM called a cabinet meeting on 19 August in Islamabad to brief the progress of CPEC which is supposed, according to both China and Pakistan, to be a catalyst for economic connectivity and integration of Central Asia, South Asia and West Asia. 

The CPEC is an important part of China’s One Belt- One Road (OBOR) project that aims to connect the Chinese mainland with Europe and Asia through a network of roads, rail and sea routes. The CPEC aims to connect a 3000 km long route of rail and road networks from Kazhgar in Xinjiang (Chinese autonomous region) with Pakistan’s Persian Gulf port of Gwadar. Despite the secrecy, the CPEC is implemented under the full protection of Pakistan’s Armed forces and intelligence agencies in PoK.

In 2010, the National Highway Authority (NHA) of Pakistan and China Roads and Bridges Corporation signed a $275 million agreement to repair Karakorum Highway (KKH) in G-B (PoK).  With several such standalone projects in PoK, the Chinese government has irked Indian authorities as the latter has been closely monitoring on and off protests. Although India had initially supported the ADB proposal of funding the massive 4500 Megawatt (MW) Diamer Basha Dam Project (DBDP) on the shared river in the GB region, it later opposed the ADB engagement. 

Both India and China are inconsistent in their protest lodging campaigns against each other. While India maintains ‘freedom of navigation in the South China Sea for its trade interests, it opposes both bilateral and multilateral aid projects in PoK.  Did China adopt an open attitude during the approval of the Country Partnership Strategy (CPS) of India (2009-2012) with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2009?  The CPS, ADB’s indicative operational program for a country, sought $2.9 billion in funding from ADB to fund India’s infrastructure projects, including a $60 million watershed and flood management project in Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian territory that is claimed by China.  The CPS for India was approved in 2009 by ADB only after the Manila-based multilateral development bank succumbed to a Chinese demand to strike off the name of Arunachal Pradesh from the documents. Despite an agreement in 1992 between the World Bank and the Jammu & Kashmir government and the release of two tranches of funds, in 2009, the World Bank dropped last and third tranche of a soil erosion project in the province in India as the project came under disputed territory. This was an implication of the India-China clash at ADB.

Evading right to development: What is development, development for whom and who will decide such development are larger questions yet to be answered fairly. Whether it is in Jammu & Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh or G-B, are the people at large being meaningfully participating in the developmental process by any country or bilateral aid agencies or international institutions? The existing disputed territories across the world have a distinction of not being accepted for international or inter-governmental developmental aid. Interestingly, as a routine, the World Food Program (WFP) in its 2015 World Hunger Map didn’t carry any data on hunger in Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh in India! A conservative estimate suggests that there are 105 disputed territories concerning 125 countries which are still out of such developmental discourse. Existing international systems are still following territory as an important instrument of governance rather than looking at the interests of the populace residing in these areas. It leads to a unique paradox- places where these assistances are absolutely required become the places where they are conspicuously absent.

In Arunachal Pradesh, part of the problem emerges from the fact that ADB does not have a policy for projects in disputed areas. Since the India-China clash on Arunachal Pradesh, the ADB has merely issued guidelines for the staff to follow on disputed territories in Asia-Pacific. Among the multilateral development financial institutions, only the World Bank has a clear policy (Bank Policy (BP): 7.60) on projects in disputed areas.

The newly formed Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has cautiously traded issues related to disagreements or disputes which are potentially high in Asia keeping in mind China’s longstanding border disputes with neighbours and developments in the South China Sea. Respecting sovereignty as sacrosanct, the AIIB is not going to fund any projects or programs in the territory if ‘that’ member objects to such financing. However, like ADB, the AIIB has not clarified funding in disputed territory as of now. Reputed bilateral agencies have been keeping their projects’ focus away from disputed regions. Has China been adhering to this well-accepted norm?

China is unlikely to give up on the idea of CPEC just because of mere Indian protests. The Indian government will not cease its developmental activities in Arunachal Pradesh either. But is it not important to respect the voices of communities residing in disputed territories as a priority rather than following the institutional norms in developmental activities?  From inter-governmental institutions like ADB/World Bank to each country sharing disputed territories like India or China or Pakistan, it is foremost important to abide by the rights to the development of communities. Otherwise, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cannot be considered ‘universal’.

Author Note
Dr. Avilash Roul, (Ph.D.) Senior Sustainable Expert, Indo-German Centre for Sustainability, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, Chennai, India.