Touted as an alternative and counterpoint to China’s One Belt, One Road project, the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) is set to be accelerated in days to come, with India signalling its intent to fast-track this transformational connective project that will encompass the two emerging growth poles in the world.
Fast-tracking AAGC, in which India, Japan and Southeast Asian countries will be co-partnering with African countries, will be high on the agenda of talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in Ahmedabad and New Delhi on September 14-15.
The leaders of India and Japan are progenitors of AAGC, and the concept of AAGC was first unveiled in the joint statement following talks between Mr Modi and Mr Abe in Tokyo on November 11, 2016. Since then, AAGC acquired an added traction at the first-ever annual meeting of the African Development Bank hosted by India in Ahmedabad in May this year.
Consultative, people-centric & inclusive
Ahead of Mr Abe’s visit, India’s Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar has called for “a wholehearted international collaboration” to actualise the promise of AAGC and outlined key features of AAGC that connects “the robust Asian economy to the young demography of Africa.” Embedding AAGC in India’s broader foreign policy calculus on growth and connectivity, Mr Jaishankar stressed on consultative process and inclusive sustainable growth as central to the realisation of the vision of the growth corridor which will straddle the two continents, home to over two-third of the world’s population.
“…growth and connectivity initiatives are truly globally owned only when they emerge from a broad consultative process,” said Mr Jaishankar at a “Consultation on Asia-Africa Growth Corridor: The Way Forward,” organised by Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) and CII, in New Delhi on August 25.
“In fact, it is precisely such deliberations that can make them really people-centric and ensure that the interests of all stake holders are adequately reflected. It is particularly necessary if we are to ensure that such initiatives are demand-driven and locally owned.”
Core Principles: Branding AAGC
With its ambition and scope, the AAGC is predictably generating much buzz in strategic circles and is being closely tracked by the powers-that-be in China. In fashioning the AAGC, India’s top diplomat identified core principles that will underpin this defining growth corridor. The project, Mr Jaishankar stressed, will be based on “universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality.”
A strong sense of local ownership, framed by consultative project designing, transfer of technology and encouragement of skills, will be central to the execution of AAGC. Financial responsibility and conformity “with ecological and environmental protection and preservation standards,” will be other distinguishing features. “And, I am compelled to add, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Mr Jaishankar.
Critique of OBOR
Mr Jaishankar’s enunciation of the AAGC can be read as a veiled critique of China’s OBOR, which India and many other like-minded countries see as a unilateral project, driven by a hidden hegemonic agenda. India has rejected OBOR in its current form as a critical node of OBOR, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through the disputed region of Kashmir, and hence amount to tempering with India’s sovereignty. Another major factor that has kept India away from OBOR is Beijing’s unilateral approach and crafting of the project without consultation with potential partners and collaborators. In view of these reservations, India boycotted the much-hyped Belt and Road Forum hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on May 14-15.
India-Africa Connect: Think bigger
Looking ahead, India is raising the bar for its multi-faced partnership with Africa, which is integral to AAGC, and seeks to dovetail New Delhi’s respective strengths in areas of capacity building and training with Japan’s technological prowess and finance. Issues related to enhanced India-Japan collaboration in Africa are expected to figure in discussions between the leaders of India and Japan in September. Mr Jaishankar has made a robust pitch for “aiming bigger” in partnering with the African continent amid cautious Afro-optimism articulated in growth projection by the World Bank and the IMF. “We have an established developed cooperation record in Africa, that ranges from power projects and dams in Sudan and Rwanda to water treatment in Tanzania and sugar factories in Ethiopia.
“Our approach has been to not only teach people to fish but even encourage them to identify the fish in question. To make this succeed, we must think bigger than what we can do for each other,” he said.
“We must actually be there for each other, whether it is natural disasters, man-made ones or medical emergencies. That has been India’s recent record in Yemen and Nepal, in Sri Lanka and Seychelles.”
India and Japan launched a bilateral dialogue a few years ago on collaboration in African countries, but the two countries are yet to zero in on concrete joint projects. With AAGC framework evolving, the designing of these joint projects is expected to gather pace, both bilaterally and in collaboration with other ASEAN countries.
The Way Ahead
The AAGC Vision Document has identified four pillars, including development and cooperation projects; quality infrastructure and institutional connectivity, capacity and skill enhancement; and people-to-people partnerships. Looking ahead, India, Japan and other participating nations should flesh out and launch pilot projects under each of these pillars to pave the way for concrete collaboration across the spectrum. The key to success of AAGC will lie in speed and skill with which these connectivity projects are conceptualised and executed. Going forward, it’s imperative to set up an AAGC Corpus Fund and form a central governing structure to approve and implement projects. Needless to say, the wholehearted participation of the African continent will be critical to the success of AAGC.
(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org), and “India and World,” a quarterly magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO of TGII Media Private Limited, a media, publishing and research company. He has authored and edited many books on India-Africa relations, including “Two Billion Dreams: Celebrating India-Africa Friendship, “IndiaAfrica: Arc of Friendship,” “India-Africa Partnership: Towards Sustainable Development” and “Engaging with Resurgent Africa.”)
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.