New Delhi: In all likelihood, India will not be sending an official delegation to the Belt and Road Forum which begins in Beijing twenty days from now. Having accepted that New Delhi will once again boycott the Forum which will see some forty world leaders in attendance, predictably including Vladimir Putin of Russia and Pakistan’s Imran Khan, Beijing has sought to use underhand methods to corrode India’s resolve. The media says that Indian businesses are being invited for non-policy participation in the Forum, with invites to them going from ostensibly non-government agencies like NGOs, and that the invitations have left businesses in a quandary. Should they attend the Forum when an Indian boycott is in place?

The issue is not straightforward and Chinese perfidy requires some explanation and contextualization. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is Chinese strongman Xi Jinping’s signature project. He has made himself dictator for life and he perhaps feels a greater urgency to make a success of an economic programme that he believes would put him on a level with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

In some ways, BRI is a natural extension of the export economy that Deng designed for China in the late-Seventies and early-Eighties. Deng died well before his programme came squarely to be opposed by the United States, which nevertheless ironically helped Deng succeed with his transformative economic experiments. Deng’s great vision had no small connection to his loathing for formal and high party positions, and there is really no one quite the equivalent of him among his contemporaries. Xi, on the other hand, is wedded to formal dictatorship. Nothing suggests that he had a premonition of the troubles China’s export economy could face making BRI necessary. Also, Xi implemented BRI rather ham-handedly, leading partner countries into debt traps, like the Maldives and Sri Lanka, and scaring others like Malaysia, Burma and even Pakistan. Xi forgot Deng’s insistence on stealthy and non-threatening advances.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that India’s boycott of BRI has invested it with a credibility gap. India’s objections to BRI go beyond the fact that its flagship project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, passes through territories claimed by India. What is not expressed but equally and perhaps more deeply felt is that China has bankrolled and armed Pakistan to bleed India through terrorism and other means so that New Delhi never becomes a strategic competitor to Beijing. Participation in BRI would not only legitimize CPEC’s passage through Indian territories but also embolden China to play Pakistan off against India even more. So the Belt and Road Forum is strong poison for India.

In the circumstances, how should Indian businesses deal with Forum invitations? The Forum is not a national day celebration which honours peoples and sovereignties. The Forum is a vehicle for establishing Chinese hegemony which would have geopolitical consequences for India. India has not formally sanctioned the Chinese economy for China’s geopolitical hostility to India and for abetting Pakistani terrorism against this country but at least such a sentiment informally operates. That should be the cue for Indian businesses to take and stay away from the Forum. Any manner of Indian participation would be exploited for propaganda by China.

The Chinese economy is slowly feeling the squeeze of the trade war with the United States which is not attending the Forum. On top of that, a resolute Indian stand hurts China’s credibility in the subcontinent and surrounding areas. India is slowly plugging trade loopholes with China to convey the message that it is no longer business as usual. In the event, Indian business would do well to stay home.

Editor’s Note: So it is finally established that no F-16 was downed by India in the dogfight that followed the Balakot raid. Pakistan’s entire inventory of F-16s has been accounted for in a US inspection. On the other hand, India lost a fighter jet and its pilot went into temporary Pakistani captivity. An IAF helicopter was also shot down by friendly fire during the dogfight. Most tragically, the object of the Balakot raid was not met at all. For Narendra Modi, then, to go on boasting about Balakot in the campaign trail is akin to rubbing salt into the wound. India needs truth-telling. Heads should roll for the intelligence and actionable failures in Phulwama, Balakot and over Nowshera skies. The last line of defence has to live up to its name and responsibilities.