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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

###Bridge (Bangladesh) *

###Tunnel construction under

###Karnaphuli River


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

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

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

###Tajikistan, Turkey,###(Kyrgyzstan) * Turkey east-

###Uzbekistan###west high-speed rail

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

###Siberia) * Altanbulag-



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

Economic Corridor###development * Karakoram

###Highway, Phase II (Thakot-

###Havelian) * Peshawar-

###Karachi Motorway

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

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

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

###Poland, Russia, Serbia,###countries) * Hungary-Serbia

###Slovakia###railway * China-Belarus

###Industrial Park * China-

###Kazakhstan Khorgos

###International Border

###Cooperation Center * Port

###of Pireaus (Greece)


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 valence in BRI member countries. Sentiment and valence may be detected in media such as newspapers. Critics of BRI associate it with China seeking dominance or hegemony over the region through economic initiatives. Critics further regard it as disruptive of the current world order that purportedly continues to be US-led, China's global economic position being at number two since 2011 and its "economic growth rate continuing to be enviable ...... there already is anxiety in the West about China's rapid ascent in the global hierarchy with questions being asked whether its "rising economic and diplomatic influence might challenge the position of European powers in the developing world...".18

Soft power, public diplomacy and policy transnationalization

Hard power and soft power are refractions of power that, in the form of resources or actions, may support both public and traditional diplomatic activity.19For soft power to have preferred outcomes, the attractiveness of an actor's cultural, political values and foreign policy must effectively "translate into the behaviour of attraction".20Recognizing the complexity of transnational interaction by complex actors, soft power, as a non-coercive form of influence (whether intended or unintended) may be seen as network sustainability. "In human interaction action or non-action leads to reactions in succession, so where power is action or non-action leading to a complex actor's interests being served, power is the sustainability of the complex actor's networks through a complex social system over a defined period".21Network sustainability is served only by messaging and sharing of network-shaping policy frameworks that register positive valence.

China uses soft power to measure power status and national strength;22 to interpret its rise;23 to assess its capacity to influence international discourse and institutional frameworks.24 It is well-endowed with soft power resources and products, except that in the policy arena it faces what it sees as an established western liberal hegemony. BRI and allied financial institutions offer an institutional framework for diffusing policy across national borders (policy transnationalization) with a soft power spin-off, if sentiment and valence in BRI member countries is positive. Chinese state media such as CGTN promote the project.25Soft power is relevant to both the public diplomacy and policy transnationalization initiatives of leadership aspirants.

Various actors export soft power products (that may be tangible or intangible, heritage or contemporary) through cultural industry, media and mobility mechanisms.26 The BRI initiative is a contemporary intangible policy product associated with tangibles, with messaging intending to engender positive valence for China in targeted audiences.

The definition of public diplomacy used herein is "engagement variously between governments and publics (noting their diasporic nature), whether between countries or within one country, through use of media (including social media), mobility or cultural production (including by prosumers), for purposes of building sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships and generating mutual goodwill" including "political types of public diplomacy, as is the messaging of political leaders and diplomats".27 It is argued here that BRI as a policy transnationalization project is ipso facto a political public diplomacy, having political-economic and security dimensions. It is an IHPDP addressing economic prosperity and military security aspirations of partners and having consequences with respect to sentiment. Indeed, one of BRI's five aims28 is precisely to promote people-to-people-bonds, under mobility, a soft power multiplier.

In both respects there is intended influence/active soft power. An important aspect of public diplomacy is listening to partner communities in order to judiciously modify policies and/or messages as necessary with an eye on sentiment.29

Stone argues that in a policy diffusion model, the spread of policy is through contagion, beginning with a network of state officials; the state being influenced by neighbours, leader-states are early adopters and followers are laggards; and "national government is a vertical influence for emulation".30

Defined as the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system, diffusion theory has been widely used in the research on the dissemination and adoption of innovation in technology, language, new products, ideas of policy, regime change and social movements.31Intended influence/active soft power in a community context is a matter of diffusion of knowledge in a non-coercive manner.So, it is with policy transnationalization where, when incentives are offered, intended influence/active hard power is at play.32 Stone notes that a policy diffusion approach "posits incremental changes in policy", and shows that large, wealthy countries would be early adopters.

We note however that India, Japan and the U.S. have been laggards with respect to BRI, exhibiting resistance and even reverse evangelization. The policy transnationalization literature focuses on "decision-making dynamics internal to political systems and to address the role of agency in transfer processes". 33

Regional Policy Transnationalization

The insertion of BRI and its network of ports in the IOR has both economic and security implications. This subsection will begin with a summary of key regional economic cooperation institutions and the implications of BRI on them. It will be followed by a summary of politico-strategic institutions and the implications of BRI on them. Economic initiatives and organizations are those such as Indian Ocean Regional Association (IORA),34 African Union (AU), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). In the main, regional economic organizations have responded to BRI by seeking resonance with infrastructure developmental goals and opportunities offered by the BRI.

While the AU seeks political modernization (good governance, democracy, rule of law, popular participation), it has in its agenda for 2063 emphasized economic modernization (infrastructure development, economic growth and industrialization) - resonating with BRI's vision of connectivity, infrastructure development, raw-material exploration and export. ASEAN states intend to allocate 5.7% of their GDP for infrastructure development between 2016 and 2030 and harmonize with the BRI goals in its Master Plan for Connectivity 2025.35

APEC aims to facilitate economic co-operation and in particular trade liberalization throughout the Asia-Pacific region and this concurs with the BRI objectives. BRI offers a unique opportunity to SAARC countries for infrastructure development, seaports being built in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) connects Xinjiang in China to Gwadar Port in Pakistan. In addition, Beijing has plans to connect India's neighbours, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar, through a network of roads, rails, pipelines or ports. Most of the cited organizations support multilateralism and emphasize decision-making characterized by consensus. However, China's reliance on bilateral agreements for infrastructure projects and trade development weakens regional organizations. China openly states that it aims at building a new architecture of globalization.

The Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace (IOZOP) is the major politico-strategic institution in the IOR, proposed by Sri Lanka in 1971, it was positively received regionally including by India and China. India, enjoying regional geo-strategic centrality and naval pre-eminence, has played a vital role in providing common goods, such as security from nontraditional threats.36 China's port development labelled as a "string of pearls" to secure its logistics, attractive to India's neighbours (though not without reservation) has made India feel suffocated. India has noticed that countries like Nigeria, Kenya and Djibouti are turning into Chinese military bases and/or transport network nodes. It views China's access to the IO through Pakistan and Myanmar as a demonstration of Beijing's intentions to penetrate deeply into South Asia. China has for its part "made clear that it will not allow the IO to become 'India's Ocean"'; it prefers a limited Indian zone of influence in the IOR.37New

Delhi has responded b y strengthening its strategic submarine and submersible ballistic nuclear missiles (SSBN) capabilities and partnering with the United States in the Indo-Pacific construct.BRI is attractive to some countries because it offers incentives of trade, connectivity and infrastructural development. Others have resisted it, to varying degrees, for fear of increased competition and reduced security.

China-led Multilateral Transnationalization Projects

The Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and the 21stcentury Maritime Silk Road (MSR) initiated in 2013 were clubbed together in September 2015 as BRI. Initially the land 'belt' was to connect China and Europe through Central Asia; the sea 'road' was to connect the South China Sea, IO and the Mediterranean. The CPEC and the Bangladesh, China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC) were added on to improve connectivity with the IO. BRI has expanded to include 68 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, 70% of the world population, two-thirds of its energy resources, one-fourth of goods and services, and 29% of global GDP - $21 trillion.38To cap any apprehensions about its long-term viability, BRI was incorporated in the Chinese Communist Party's constitution at the 19th National Congress in October 2017, signaling China's commitment to building infrastructure to connect with world markets.

According to Chinese sources, BRI aims to "enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future together". Further, it aims to enhance "connectedness of infrastructure and build a community of common interests". To promote BRI, China committed $40 billion to "provide investment and financing support for infrastructure, resources, industrial cooperation, financial cooperation and other projects" in BRI partner countries. The priority of the projects was set to incorporate "transport infrastructure, easier investment and trade, financial cooperation and cultural exchange".39

There are geo-economic, geo-strategic and cultural facets to BRI. China oriented its trade and infrastructure projects accidentally for three reasons: to encourage Chinese regional development through better integration with neighbouring economies; to upgrade Chinese industry and export standards; to address excess capacity developed to avert the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Arguably, it wished also to counter isolation from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). China is building infrastructure and connectivity and exporting low-end industry to a wide arc of developing countries under BRI; and undertaking a massive economic structural reform to upgrade its own industries so as to produce high-end technology rather than cheap mass-produced goods.

China even offered to invest four billion dollars for development in the Northern Territory. Considering the geo-strategic implications and domestic sentiment, Australia declined the offer. Additionally, China's inroads in the Oceanic islands have raised co ncerns in Canberra.

BRI would be a logical counter balance to the US 'pivot' to Asia, declared in 2011, and the launch of the Indo-Pacific regional geostrategic construct. The pivot enhances India's role, having control over the western mouth of the Malacca Strait through which 80% of China's energy supplies enter into the South China Sea - presenting a 'Malacca dilemma' for China.40 The CPEC and the BCIM-EC circumvent this potential choke point. Chinese-constructed strategically located seaports (Gwadar, Pakistan; Hambantota, Sri Lanka; Sittwe, Myanmar; Chittagong: Bangladesh) serve to dilute India's monopoly in the IO. Beijing aims to develop port facilities/economic zones in Australia, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Tanzania, to gain maritime access and trade connectivity. Doraleh Port (Djibouti) is China's first overseas military base; Gwadar Port is likely to harbor submarines and aircraft carriers.

China plans to develop the deep-sea port at Lamu (Kenya) with transport links and pipelines to South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Port of Douala (Cameroon). Security experts in Beijing have repeatedly asserted that BRI will have regional security mechanisms; the People's Liberation Army may protect BRI facilities. Simultaneously, Beijing insists its naval strategy is for peaceful development, for protection of regional trade interests and strengthening of connections with Asian countries.

In March 2015, China released Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Belt and Road, evangelising a "Silk Road Spirit" characterized by "peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefits". Further, it emphasized on shelving differences and building consensus.... Upholding the existing international ocean order".41However, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (2016) and some states have been at odds with Beijing about the latter's South China Sea island construction and disturbance, by fishing fleets, of the marine ecosystem.

We see that even within the objectives of the BRI economic policy transnationalization project there is a public diplomacy (cultural diplomacy in this case) objective. Importantly, there is the wider public diplomacy intent (through construction of a public diplomacy plexus) of achieving positive sentiment at home and abroad vis-a-vis factors of security and economic prosperity. China promotes BRI through its international media, such as CGTN, as being an economic boon to members. Chinese international media also have as an objective the repudiation of the China threat theory and portrayal of the peaceful development of China. Positive messaging by media can be sullied by contingencies. Pakistan for instance cancelled the $14 billion DiamerBhasha Dam project because "Chinese conditions for financing.... were not doable and against our interests".42Nepal scrapped a $2.5 billion hydroelectricity project because of financial irregularities by a Chinese company.

Myanmar backtracked from a $3.6 billion Chinese-backed dam because it was no longer interested in big hydro-electric power projects. Sri Lanka ceded control of Hambantota Port for ninety-nine years because of indebtedness to China.

China has vigorously promoted BRI as a two-way investment channel, between China and APEC members, that reached $177.9 billion in 2016. Beijing supports a China-launched, operated and controlled BRI to engage regional states to expand its capital investment through bilateral agreements.

India-led Multilateral Policy Transnationalization Projects

India has employed multiple bilateral projects for policy transnationalization, introducing a pair in response to BRI: Mausam - a strategic project that aims at re-establishing India's trade and shipping links with IOR states - and Cotton Route, to firm up diplomatic and economic relations with IOR countries. India also targets the modus operandi and efficacy of BRI and MSR specifying that "connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality" as against what some see as pressure tactics, insistence on bilateral discussions, flouting of the organizational frameworks, and debt trapping of developing countries.43India initiated its own connectivity gamut with Japan, US, Russia, Iran-Afghanistan and the US.

In September 2017, Indian PM Modi and Japanese counterpart Abe agreed to strengthen connectivity in the Indo-Pacific region through an Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC). AAGC's four-pillar approach aims to enhance growth and connectivity between Asia and Africa through "Development and Cooperation Projects, Quality Infrastructure and Institutional Connectivity, Enhancing Capacities and Skills and People-to-People partnership, with a broader objective to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific region". Development projects in health and pharmaceuticals, agriculture and agro-processing, disaster management and skill enhancement are identified as needed by Africa. AAGC requires that African countries should directly benefit from quality transparent infrastructure projects with non-exclusive provisions. Both parties would also support responsible debt financing and respect sovereignty and territorial integrity, the rule of law, and the environment.

Further, with the concern of BRI's domestic overcapacity and labour export focus, it emphasized on "job creation as well as capacity building for the local communities".44African countries may find in AAGC an alternative to BRI and a bargaining chip in dealing on BRI.

Denied transit access by Pakistan to trade with Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics (CARs), India completed construction of Phaseone of Chabahar Port in Iran on 3 December 2017 under a trilateral agreement signed by India, Iran and Afghanistan in May 2016 for the Establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor.45 India has already invested over $2 billion in infrastructure and transportation networks to connect CARs and Afghanistan with Iran through road and rail networks.

The Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor (IPEC) links South Asia with Southeast Asia.46 In June 2017, India and the US agreed to "support bolstering regional economic connectivity through the transparent development of infrastructure and the use of responsible debt financing practices, while ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, the rule of law, and the environment".47Both projects facilitate India's countering of the CPEC and BCIM more trenchantly to neutralize the challenges it sees posed to its sovereignty and regional dominance.

Russia, Iran and India signed an agreement in St. Petersburg to develop an International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). The INSTC is the shortest multi-modal transportation route linking the IO and the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea via Iran and St Petersburg.48This corridor serves both economic and strategic purposes. Economically, it cuts costs and delivery time rendering trade between India, Iran and Russia more competitive and cost-effective. Strategically, Russia has dominated the CAR region but BRI challenges Russian dominance, markets and strategic advantage. Russia views India as less of a competitor. For India, having a foothold in the CAR guarantees its energy supplies. The Chabahar Port, rail and road infrastructure constructed by India in Afghanistan and Iran complements CAR's access to the IO and breaks the sole dependency on Pakistani routes and ports. In a sense, Chabahar Port acts as a counter-balance to the Gwadar Port.

With China's far seas (two ocean) naval strategy coming into operation, India has undertaken trilateral security cooperation with the US and Japan. This countervailing security measure signalled, with the conduct of the 21st edition of the joint Malabar exercise by Indian, Japanese and the US navies in the Bay of Bengal in July 2017, the forging of deeper defense ties between these states, to alleviate concerns about China's naval movements in the IO. The seriousness and level of sensitivity of the Malabar exercise can be gauged from the participation of 95 aircrafts, 16 ships and two submarines. To further neutralize the challenges posed by BRI, US, Japan, Australia and India held a working level quadrilateral meeting (the Quad) on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2017, to facilitate regional cooperation.

The Quad was initiated in 2007, but Australia withdrew from it because of Beijing's concerns that it aimed to contain China. However, China's activities in the Indo-Pacific region - such as constructing islands in the South China Sea, territorial disputes with the neighbours, dispatch of Chinese submarines in the IO - have raised concerns. Thus, the Quad emphasized a "free and open Indo-Pacific" by promoting inter alia a rules-based order in Asia, freedom of navigation and overflight in the maritime commons, respect for international law, enhance connectivity, and maritime security. India while affirming the Quad discussions stated that it "agreed that a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region serves the long-term interests of all countries in the region and of the world at large".49

India seems less interested in an international communication strategy to promote positive sentiment towards itself than is China. Its bilateral policy transnationalization projects do not fit in neatly into the notion of public diplomacy plexus as discussed above - and are more like multiple mini-plexuses. They do address a sentiment that has registered in India and Australia that there are security implications to BRI that need to be addressed.

Sentiments towards BRI Echoed in News Media

Frame analysis was conducted following a constructivist approach to examine frames of BRI in selected elite newspapers in the IOR littoral region.50English language newspapers were selected because they are read by policy elites in the country. This research examined frames of BRI in key littoral states of the IO, namely South Africa, Kenya, Iran, Pakistan, India, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia. The countries were selected based on their relationships with China as a trading partner, foreign direct investor and competitor. Adopting the concept of media as a public forum,51we hold that the press coverage broadly reflects the debates on policy issues, especially in broadsheets, that convey states' views, more extensively articulated than in tabloids, to policy elites and opinion leaders. Whole texts were searched through the database Factiva through keywords "One Belt One Road" and "Belt and Road Initiative".

The papers selected by country include: Australia - Australian Financial Review (AFR) and The Australian; India - Hindustan Times and The Times of India; Singapore - The Straits Times and Today; Indonesia - Jakarta Post and Jakarta Globe; Iran - Iran Daily and Tehran Times; Pakistan - The Pakistan Observer and The Dawn; South Africa - Cape Times and The Star; Kenya - The Star, and The Eastern Africa.


Australia AFR framed BRI as presenting danger and opportunity. An aspect of great power geopolitical competition, it can disrupt world order; there are economic opportunities at both domestic and international levels. Advocating reservation on official state engagement with BRI, AFR identified Australian banks as potential beneficiaries. The Australian acknowledged economic opportunities seriously, but to a limited extent (13% of articles) and China's geopolitical ambitions to a large extent (87%). Maintaining a sceptical tone, it noted that no substantial projects had been implemented, warning that investors may suffer losses.


Hindustan Times focused on the security problems for India. Geo-economic factors, debt traps and security issues (such as in Pakistan and Sri Lanka) were emphasized as issues of concern. It encouraged India to use its burgeoning market as a bargaining chip to negotiate on BRI. Times of India highlighted more sharply the competition between India and China. It defined BRI as a move to extend China's influence in the region, viewing Chinese cooperation with other countries as potentially reducing India's opportunities. Although acknowledging possible opportunities for regional relationship building, most articles urged India to enhance cooperation with neighbouring countries so as to check China's presence in the region. Security concerns figured greatly in this newspaper and direct attacks on the initiative were repeated, likening BRI to a colonial enterprise.

South Africa and Kenya:

In Cape Times and The Star despite being at one end of Maritime Silk Road, there was very limited attention to BRI herein with just four articles presenting similar frames: BRI reflected China's rising status, but was an inclusive platform. There were opportunities for economic and cultural cooperation and also Western concerns that BRI may discriminate against international businesses. No South African response or engagement was addressed in either newspaper. The East African in Kenya had a continent-wide rather than Kenyan focus. It framed BRI as a projection of the new world order. In the regional perspective, NGO workers' contributions called for China to enhance its regional role to ensure the success of BRI projects. The Star was more Kenya focused, framing BRI as a common good and opportunity for regional and domestic development.

It held that BRI provided an opportunity for Kenyan development, through investment in infrastructure, even to the extent of securing a leading position in the continent through rapid development. One article advocated that care should be taken in conducting negotiations.


Today framed BRI geopolitically in a detached tone, listing concerns and risks such as BRI being an instrument of control through tipping balances in relationships. Chinese competition with India and the US was viewed as potentially precipitating security problems in South East Asia; Chinese investment may bring economic risks. Regionally focused, Today does not address the significance of BRI to Singapore except for noting business and political communities' belief that BRI presents a worthwhile opportunity. The Strait Times registered high interest, framing BRI as a strategy for economic integration and development that reflected China's growing role internationally. It carried a frame of geopolitical motivation, in citing world public opinion, and discussed international economic opportunities created by BRI for the region.

It expressed concerns about issues of regional competition, transparency and 'strings' that may be associated with BRI, while revealing opportunities for local busine sses to expand their regional markets. There was also concern about the possible threat to Singapore's established geo-economic status in the region. While the large Chinese diaspora in Singapore is regarded in China as a resource in its policy diffusion efforts, a scholarly contribution to The Strait Times dismissed the idea emphasizing the distinct Singaporean identity. It called for collective engagement by ASEAN with China regarding BRI.


The pro-government Pakistan Observer registered high interest in BRI, framing it as a game changer towards peace, progress, prosperity and a geo-economic strategy; an approach to address extremism and terrorism through economic development; and a way to create tolerance and acceptance of cultural diversity at domestic and regional levels. Citing the state narrative, it acknowledged that Pakistan is the biggest beneficiary and called for wider international engagement with BRI, as that would mean more investment for Pakistan as well addressing concerns about China's rise. Benefits gained by Pakistan from the project include foreign direct investment (FDI), skills training and technology transfer for wide communities including students.

The welcoming Pakistani stance was reflected in political communities and beneficiary groups who expressed their expectations that further investments, implementation of planned projects in the CPEC, and depoliticization of international discussion on BRI projects, would follow. While Dawn (an opposition newspaper) registered medium interest, its framing of BRI shared some similarities with Pakistan Observer. For example, Dawn framed BRI as an alternative approach to the globalization/cooperation/development model/addressing security issues. Citing a UN report, Dawn did not shy away from the notion that BRI might arouse tension between India and Pakistan. It acknowledged that Pakistan would be the biggest beneficiary and that BRI provided economic opportunities for Pakistan that would also help improve relations with neighbours through connectivity.

Dawn also mentioned cases of engagement in the broader community such as by think tanks and the agricultural industry. It displayed skepticism about internal transparency and speeding-up of the pace of implementation.


Indonesian newspapers framed BRI as a strategy to promote regional development and integration. Harking on the state narrative, Jakarta Post described Indonesia as one of the biggest beneficiaries, receiving benefits like FDI that have been a boon to infrastructure development. This development opportunity in turn has enhanced Indonesia's position in regional decision-making. Apart from the 'development opportunity' frame, Jakarta Post noted the competition extant in the region: Neighbouring countries scramble for resources; and extra-regional powers such as China and Japan compete for markets. Coverage in Jakarta Post also reflected the eager engagement of the government with BRI to receive further FDI injections into infrastructure development. In addition, unlike the widely held concern about there being "strings attached" to FDI, one article expressed an understanding of the conditions attached to China's investment.

Jakarta Globe framed BRI as a 'development opportunity' and a pla tform for broader connectivity although the widely shared 'hegemonic ambition' frame found expression in it. It saw BRI on the one hand as a 'development opportunity' for national infrastructure and the whole ASEAN region; on the other hand, as a source of potential conflict between China and other big powers. For Indonesia, facing gloomy prospects under contemporary world conditions, BRI has provided development opportunities through FDI. Indonesia, in the eyes of some, had an obvious geographical advantage in the development of Maritime Silk Road. Some scholars expressed that Indonesia needed the skills to balance its ever-closer relationship with China and other existing partners. Apart from FDI and the agreement signed with China, Jakarta Globe mentioned broader engagement in initiatives such as cooperation in the education sector.

There were 20 categories among the 63 detected frames. Economic frames with positive valence registered the highest percentages of total frames: Opportunity (11%) and regional cooperation (9.52%). Geopolitical hegemonic intention was the highest (9.52%) frame with mostly negative valence, Iran showing positive valence. Negatively valence for the geo-economic frame registered at 1.59% with Singapore seeing a threat to its position. Frames with positive valence summed up to 36.38%. When neutral frames (17.01%) were added to frames with positive valence they sum up to 53.39%. There is however a fair percentage of frames with negative valence (44.58%).


In sum, the study found the following in relation to BRI messaging as seen in newspaper frames in IOR countries. Positive frames/sentiments were registered for policies around economic actions of China in Australian, Indian, Indonesian, Iranian, Pakistani, Singaporean, South African and Kenyan newspapers, with the following frames: Common good; opportunity (business, development); regional development; and global development.

Negative frames/sentiments were registered for policies around economic actions of China in Australian, Indian and Indonesian newspapers with the following frames: Risk/investment loss/gloomy prospects; development competition; regional competition; geopolitical/hegemonic intention; and geo-economic strategy.

Negative or neutral frames/sentiments were registered for policies around geopolitical actions of China in Australian, Indian, Indonesian and Iranian newspapers with the following frames: Risk/investment loss/gloomy prospects; regional competition; geopolitical/hegemonic intention; and geo-economic strategy. Negative frames/sentiments were registered for policies around geo-political/security related actions of China in Australian, Indian and Indonesian newspapers with the following frames: Geo-political/hegemonic intention; threat to western order; big power rivalry, border tension and sovereignty.

Security dimensions (23.46%) were addressed to a lesser extent than economic dimensions (82.89%). Security frames characterized by negative sentiment appeared in both Australian and Indian and the Pakistani opposition newspapers. Economic frames were found in newspapers of all countries with positive sentiment in relation to opportunities and negative sentiment in relation to threats, risks or challenges. Australian, Indian, Singaporean and Pakistani newspapers - just the Strait Times and The Dawn in the latter two cases - indicated possible threats, risks or challenges posed by BRI. The compound political-economic-symbolic nature of BRI could only be discerned by inference, in geo-political and geo-economic frames (44.08%).

BRI messaging in the IOR as seen in newspaper frames in IOR countries registered neutral frames/sentiment for policies around influence related actions of China in Indian newspapers - with rise in influence frames. Positive frames/sentiments were registered for learning (skills training and technology transfer), a policy transnationalization factor in Indonesian, Kenyan and Pakistani newspapers.

A public diplomacy plexus incorporates two types of policy actions - strategic economic action and messaging; and strategic security action and messaging. There was immense support for the United Nations, following the World War II and coinciding with decolonization, as an institutional public good that sought to pursue security and prosperity as public goods. BRI is not being introduced in a comparable geo-political context. Whereas the UN was born after the emergence of a bipolar world, BRI's nativity takes place in an emerging multipolar world where there is concern that the old-world order is disintegrating.

China has a special challenge in unfolding BRI in this context and the percentage of combined positive and neutral frames that have registered in IOR newspapers must be heart-warming to it. However, there is the mixed sentiment in the Quad countries and Singapore where the Indian critique of aspects of BRI finds sympathetic audiences. Pakistan too shares some South Asian qualms about BRI. In this respect, policy valence sought in partner countries can be diluted by contingency-driven sentiment, particularly in democracies. From this point of view, listening strategies, as proposed in the soft power and public diplomacy literature are particularly important to consider in the crafting of policies and messages pertaining to public diplomacy plexuses and their unfolding across disparate political terrain.

Notes and References

1 James R Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, "China's Naval Ambitions in the Indian Ocean", Journal of Strategic Studies 31, no. 3 (2008), p. 368.

2 John Guy, "Quanzhou: Cosmopolitan City of Faiths", in The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty, ed., C.Y. Watt James (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), p.160.

3 According to Liu, "The Chinese are accustomed to viewing the United States from the perspective of 'hegemony"'. In fact, Ci Yuanhas defined it as "the head of ancient feudatories: the decline of the emperor would see the rise of feudatories, and therefore would emerge Ba (hegemons)" and believes that "a person who owns Tianxia is the king and the head of princes is a Ba". The Cihai (China's encyclopaedia,) holds that the term "hegemony" first appeared in Greek history in the West and refers to the control of other city-states by some big city-state (such as Sparta). Later, it generally refers to the great powers that do not respect the sovereignty and independence of other countries, forcefullyintervene, control and rule other countries.

Modern Western academics consider hegemony to be ideational leadership that has consent, referring to the non-coercive aspect of class rule, the ability of the ruling class to use social institutions to impose their values and beliefs on the rest. From this aspect, the Chinese explanation of hegemony is closer, as we can see, to the "hard power" of the United States, whereas the explanation by the West is closer to what we now call "soft power"'. One should point out here that there were system-wide hegemons, and regional hegemons, such as the US in the moment of post-Cold War unipolarity. There could be several system-wide hegemons in a multipolar world. This article adopts a modern Western academic approach to hegemony at the international level.

4 Naren Chitty, "Conclusion", in The Routlege Handbook of Soft Power, eds., Naren Chitty, et al. (New York: Routlege, 2017), p. 461; Simon Reich and Richard Ned Lebow, Good-Bye Hegemony! Power and Influence in the Global System (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2014), p. 7.

5 Harold Dwight Lasswell, "The World Revolution of Our Time: A Framework for Basic Policy Research", in World Revolutionary Elites: Studies in Coercive Ideological Movements in Our Time: A Framework for BasicPolicy Research, eds. Harold Dwight Lasswell and Daniel Lerner (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1965), p. 42.

6 Nicholas Onuf, World of Our Making (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989); Nicholas Onuf, "Humanitarian Intervention: The Early Years", Florida Journal of International Law 16, no 4 (2004), 753-757; Nicholas Onuf, "Rule and Rules in International Relations", Lecture at the Cluster of Excellence: The Formation of Normative Orders, Goethe University Frankfurt/Main 5 (2014).

7 Katja Weber and Paul A Kowert, Cultures of Order: Leadership, Language, and Social Reconstruction in Germany and Japan (New York: SUNY Press, 2012), p. 32.

8 Ian Clark, Hegemony in International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 21, 27.

9 Harold Dwight Lasswell and Daniel Lerner, World Revolutionary Elites: Studies in Coercive Ideological Movements (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1965), p. 67.

10 Joseph S Nye, The Future of Power (New York: PublicAffairs, 2011).

11 Joseph Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2004).

12 E Wittkopf, World Politics: Trend and Transformation (New York: St. Martin's/WORTI I, 2001).

13 Graham Allison, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap? (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017).

14 Xiaoping Deng, "Deng Xiaoping Speech Sixth Special Meeting UN General Assembly" (New York, 1974). accessed 15 March 2018)

15 Reich and Lebow, pp. 7-8.

16 Onuf, "Rule and Rules in International Relations", p. 6.

17 Lasswell, n. 5; Naren Chitty, "Development is communication: Self-reliance, self-development, and empowerment", Telematics and Informatics 9, no. 1 (1992), pp. 24-25.

18 Tanguy De Wilde, Pierre Defraigne and Jean-Christophe Defraigne, China, the European Union and the Restructuring of Global Governance (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2012), p. 3.

19 Naren Chitty, "Soft Power, Civic Virtue and World Politics", in The Routledge Handbook of Soft Power, eds. Naren Chitty, et al. (New York: Routledge, 2017), pp. 1719.

20 Nye, The Future of Power, n. 10, p. 84.

21 Naren Chitty, n. 19, p.11.

22 Jae Ho Chung, "Assessing China's Power", in Assessing China's Power, ed., Jae Ho Chung (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), pp. 1-19.

23 Sheng Ding, "Analyzing Rising Power from the Perspective of Soft Power: A New Look at China's Rise to the Status Quo Power", Journal of Contemporary China 19, no. 64 (2010), pp. 255-272.

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25 Mei Li, Delivering Chinese Voices to Australian Audiences: CCTV's Search for Congruence between Its Frames and Those of Audiences (North Ryde: Macquarie University, 2018).

26 Chitty, n. 19, pp. 23-29.

27 Ibid, pp. 18-19.

28 "They should promote policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bonds as their five major goals"; these are found in Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Belt and Road that was released in March 2015. ed 27 July 2019).

29 Nicholas J Cull, "Public Diplomacy: Taxonomies and Histories", The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 616, no. 1 (2008), pp. 31-54.

30 Diane Stone, "Transfer Agents and Global Networks in the 'Transnationalization' of Policy", Journal of European Public Policy 11, no. 3 (2004), p. 547.

31 Halim Rane and Sumra Salem, "Social Media, Social Movements and the Diffusion of Ideas in the Arab Uprisings", Journal of International Communication 18, no. 1 (2012), pp. 97-111; M Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations (New York: The Free Press, 1995).

32 Chitty, n.4, p. 454.

33 Stone, n. 30, pp. 547-548.

34 "The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is an inter-governmental organization formed in 1997 to foster regional economic cooperation. IORA has evolved into the peak regional grouping to span the Indian Ocean. From its inception with 14-member states, the membership has expanded to 21 countries: Australia, Bangladesh, the Comoros, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Sultanate of Oman, Seychelles, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. IORA has seven dialogue partners: China, Egypt, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America" (Canberra: Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, undated).

35 Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025, 2016, July 28, 2019).

36 Dalbir Ahlawat and D. Gopal, "Shifting Strategic Dynamics in the Indo-Pacific Region: Implications for Australia and India", in India-Australia Relations: Evolving Polycentric World Order, eds., D Gopal and Dalbir Ahlawat (New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2017), p. 25.

37 David Brewster, India's Ocean: The Story of India's Bid for Regional Leadership (Oxon: Routledge, 2014), p. 36.

38 S Menon, "The Unprecedented Promises-and Threats-of the Belt and Road Initiative", Brookings, 28 April 2017, 25 July 2019).

39 "From initiative to reality: Moments in developing the Belt and Road Initiative", The State Council of People's Republic of China, 23 April 2015, 425039.htm(accessed 27 July 2019).

40 D Gopal and Dalbir Ahlawat, "Australia-India Strategic Relations: From Estrangement to Engagement", India Quarterly 71, no. 3 (2015), p. 212.

41 Mengjie, "Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative", Xinhua, 20 June 2017, (accessed 25 July 2019).

42 PTI, "China's strict conditions force Pakistan not to include Diamer-Bhasha Dam in CPEC: Officials", The Economic Times, 13 July 2018, 24 July 2019).

43 Indrani Bagchi, "To counter OBOR, India pushes its own idea of connectivity to the world", The Times of India, 19 November 2017, 25 July 2019).

44 African Development Bank. (May 22-26, 2017). Meeting Asia Africa Growth Corridor: Partnership for Sustainable and Innovative Development: A Vision Document, 11 February 2018).

45 S. Haidar, "Iran inaugurates Chabahar Port", The Hindu,3 December 2017, 11 February 2018).

46 PTI, "To Counter China's OBOR, US Revives Two Infrastructure Projects in Asia", The Wire, 2017, 11 February 2018).

47 Ministry of External Affairs, Joint Statement - United States and India: Prosperity through Partnership, 27 June 2017 ++United+Stat es+and+India+Prosperity+Through+Partnership (accessed 11 February 2018).

48 R. A. Spector, "The North-South Transport Corridor", Brookings, 3 July 2002, 11 February 2018).

49 Ministry of External Affairs, India-Australia-Japan-U.S. Consultations on Indo-Pacific, 12 November 2017, ns+on + IndoPacific+November+12+2017 (accessed 11 February 2018).

50 Gregory Bateson, "A Theory of Play and Fantasy", Psychiatric Research Reports 2, (1955), pp. 39-51; Baldwin Van Gorp, "The Constructionist Approach to Framing: Bringing Culture Back In", Journal of Communication 57, no. 1 (2007), pp. 60-78.

51 B. Kovach and T Rosenstiel, The elements of journalism: What news people should know and the public should expect (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2014).
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