Monday June 17, 2024

Corridor of conflict

By Abdul Zahoor Khan Marwat
November 21, 2017
The Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM) is a concept to build the first expressway between India and China, which will pass through Myanmar and Bangladesh. The concept emerged in the late 1990s from China’s Yunnan province about possible sub regional cooperation involving south-western China, eastern India, Myanmar and Bangladesh. This eventually led to the development of the platform, which came to be known as the 'Kunming Initiative'. The first meeting of the initiative was convened in 1999 in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. Proponents of the idea projected two prominent objectives behind the BCIM initiative; one economic integration of the sub-region and second, development of the border regions.
On April 26 2017, the Joint Study Group (JSG) of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor concluded its third meeting in which four separate reports involving 11 sectors were presented for consideration by the respective governments. These included general principles on objectives and modalities; connectivity; energy; investment and finance, trade, and trade facilitation; human resource development; sustainable development; and the institutional mechanisms required to implement the recommendations.
However, there is a perception among the Chinese scholars that India has become lukewarm to the BCIM project by linking it with its reservations on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
It seems that after witnessing slow response from India, China may put in more concentrated efforts to link Kunming with the Bay of Bengal by establishing its route through Lashio, Mandaley to the sea port Kyauk Phyu in Myanmar, which is feasible in terms of distance and location. Myanmar plays a significant role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, due to its strategic location close to Southeast Asia and its better opening in the Bay of Bengal.
But in the current context of trust deficit between India and China, the initiative does not seem to be reaching the implementation phase in the near future. There is fragile security situation in northeastern states of India, the Rohingya crisis and security in Rakhine State of Myanmar resulting in trust deficit between Bangladesh and Myanmar. The two major countries, India and China have different agendas, purposes, and viewpoints that continue to hold back progress on the BCIM initiative. Indian External Affairs Ministry Additional Secretary A. Gitesh Sarma pushed for caution on BCIM in the recent JSG meeting: “We should be mindful of different domestic circumstances and developmental aspirations in our respective countries. While we focus on expanding trade volumes, equal attention should also be paid to its sustainability. Greater access to each other’s markets is desirable to achieve more viable and sustainable trade cooperation in our region.”
India fears that the BCIM would simply facilitate Chinese imports of natural resources and exports of processed goods to the region, ignoring its massive trade deficit with China. On the other hand, China reportedly wants immediate action and commitment to the initiative. It is also advocated in India that for the BCIM corridor project to be successful, China must stop river diversion and dam-building projects as it impacting relations among the member states. Differences in perceptions and approaches to the BCIM project continue to hinder the project, which may remain on the table.