mar. Hence, it becomes imperative to focus on the genesis of BCIM-EC, which though at its nascent stage, has a strong potential to augment China’s economic prowess and regional might that can be equated with greater optimal and strategic gains.
Connecting the Geopolitical dots For the BCIM-EC project (Bangladesh-China-India and Myanmar-Economic Corridor), China pledged $40 billion to enhance Asian connectivity. Beijing also launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to revitalize the BCIM process. The four parties met at Bangladesh in December 2014 to give the project a formal institutional shape. What lies for India in BCIM-EC? Amrita Jash
n the twenty-first century, ‘Multilateralism’ has become the code of world politics. In this attempt, regionalism and sub-regionalism has become the integral characteristic of functioning in the international system thriving on the mantra ‘all for one, and one for all’. This phenomenon has led to the replacement of
the command of politics by economics. Conforming to this international behavioural politics, the rising Asian Giant ‘China’ is not left apart as it has readily adopted multilateralism as an important pillar of its foreign policywhereby the Dragon seeks to enhance its power in the international system. In this systemic dynamics, China’s involvement in the multilateral forums has been expanding and evolving un-
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der various political umbrellas, such as–ASEAN, EAS, APEC, BRICS and so on. Among these, the most notable factor is China’s emerging interest in the South Asian landscape, exemplary of which is its drive for upgrading its observer status to that of permanent membership in SAARC. To this effect, China’s most nascent initiative has been the making of a sub-regional cooperative forum of the four Asian
A New Economic ‘Silk Route’ in the Making The inception of ‘BCIM-EC’ was initially conceived in 1999 in Kunming, and was called the ‘Kunming Initiative’, wherein the aim was to establish bilateral trade and investment along the old Southern Silk Road, linking the Bay of Bengal with India’s Northeastern Region (NER), Bangladesh and Myanmar to Southwest China through deeper integration of its constituent countries- ‘Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar’ or ‘BCIM’. This multimodal corridor project intends to connect and enhance the cross-border flow of people, goods and services in these four countries, dismantling the physical borders that restrict closer connectivity. Since its inception in 1999, the BCIM initiative has been a non-functional body as that of SAARC. But despite its non-functional character, what makes BCIM a potential regional forum is worthy to note. As it is argued that once BCIM becomes functional and concretised it will combine the ChinaIndia-ASEAN Free Trade Area, thereby, making it the biggest free trade area in the world. Herein, with the changing international scenario paralleled with the rapid emergence of China in the world economic radar based on its purchasing power parity (PPP), BCIM offers an advantage for the rising dragon. Being a potential growth zone, China’s interest lies in making it an ‘Economic Corridor’ (EC), which is mostly argued to be ‘China’s New Economic Silk Route’ in order to expand and strengthen its economic power. Parallel to its ‘Maritime Silk Route’, BCIM-EC provides China a platform to revive and explore the scope of its ancient silk route running from Chittagong to Yunnan through Myan-
China needs to aChieve seCurity and stability along the region for its development and henCe it has been repositioning yunnan from a peripheral provinCe to the Centre of various Cross-border eConomiC networks economies. Founded under Track-II framework, the idea was mooted by following institutions from the BCIM countries-namely, the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in Bangladesh, Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences (YASS) in Kunming, China, the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) and the Institute of Chinese Studies in India and the Ministry of Border Trade of Myanmar. The agenda behind this initiative was to foster greater connectivity and regional cooperation by making it a growth quadrangle or regional Economic Development Area (REDA) and use the region’s untapped resources. In that, China and India’s technological sophistication, labour efficiency and better infrastructure would be
equated with that of Bangladesh and Myanmar’s rich unskilled and skilled labour force and basic technological assets. But the inspiration to formalise sub-regional BCIM was led by the success of other growth zones such as the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) and the Southern China Growth Triangles and the Growth Triangle comprising Johor State of Malaysia, Singapore and the Riau Islands of Indonesia. With its slow and steady functional pace, the BCIM initiative has gradually surfaced on the regional sphere with its concentrated focus on achieving cooperation, connectivity and exchange. In 2011, emphasis was laid on building greater connectivity by BCIM economic corridor, through railways, highways, personnel and information flows, tourism, energy links and people-to-people contact. Having a long term goal of comprehensive and sustainable development, the BCIM-EC is mainly designed to convert the advantages of political, geographic and economic complementaries into cooperation and sustainable growth for smooth goods’ flow, sound governance, social harmony, mutual benefit and common development. The advantages that emanate for China-the largest manufacturing exporter–are Myanmar, that serves as a primary goods exporter and storehouse of abundant cheap labour, India as a leading services exporter and Bangladesh as service exporter as well as low-end goods manufacturer. Thus, this meaningful connectivity approach seeks to ease market access of goods, services and energy, elimination of non-tariff barriers and better trade facilitation through investment and infrastructural development. The potential regional growth zone and the intrinsic high-level interactions have transformed the nature of the BCIM forum from ‘Track-II’ to ‘Track-I’- elevating the scope of the regional collaboration. In this backdrop, a solid foundation in this initiative was laid by the Kunming to Kolkata (K2K) Car Rally in February 2013 via Kolkata, Dhaka, Imphal and Mandalay to Kunming, setting the stage for the possibility of actualising the BCIM-EC.
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However, the BCIM initiative gained momentum with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to India and interaction with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in May 2013, which elevated the BCIM process to inter-governmental level. In this process, the first official meeting of the Joint Study Group (JSG) of the BCIM-EC was held in December 18-19, 2013 in Kunming, which marked the official launch of the inter-governmental process of BCIM-EC. China pledged $40 billion to set up a Silk Road Fund to break the financial bottleneck in Asian connectivity. Following the institutional mode, the second meeting of the JSG was held on December 17-18, 2014 in Cox’ Bazar, Bangladesh. This meeting finalised a common agreement from all four countries to provide a time line to synthesise and finalize a common report on ways to make progress on the EC, linking the four countries by mid-2015. The significance of this sub-regional cooperative forum is attributed to the 2,800 km long BCIM-EC, part of the historic Silk Route aimed to connect the Kolkata-Kunming route (Kunming-Ruili-Bhamo-Lashio-Mandalay-Tamu-Imphal-Sylhet-DhakaKolkata). The cooperation framework envisions to link some of the ports and key nodes, cities and growth centres of the four countries through improving and developing key economic infrastructure. In the process, the EC is expected to unlock parts of the countries towards facilitating greater economic synergies. The corridor will cover 1.65 million square kilometres, encompassing an estimated 440 million people in China’s Yunnan Province, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bihar. China’s Strategic Interests in BCIM With its economic stronghold in the BCIM initiative, China’s entails strategic interests in building the BCIM-EC as a successful growth zone. Unlike its ‘Maritime Silk Route’, in this initiative China envisages a modern network of high-speed rail, motorways, pipelines, waterways, ports, power supplies, fibre
the bCim-eC, 2,800 km long, is designed to Convert the advantages of politiCal relations, geographiCal proximity and eConomiC Complementary into dividends of Cooperation optic cables and others. Beijing’s primary driver is the economic necessity which it plans to attain through greater interdependence. The advantage lies in making the BCIM-EC-China-India Free Trade Area which holds greater economic prospects and optimal gains for China. To fulfil its interests, China has launched the Asian Infrastructural Development Bank (AIDB) in Beijing to revitalize the BCIM process and fetch the optimal gains by building the Corridor. The larger goal is to achieve great power status by expanding the global role and influence through multilateral
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institutions. China aims that with physical connectivity, the regions will not perceive China as a threat and China would be able to make its stronghold in South Asia. South Asia is where India stills maintains a dominant position and China is keen to make inroads. It is imperative for Beijing to achieve security and stability along the region for its development and hence it has been repositioning Yunnan from a peripheral province to the centre of various cross-border economic networks. Yunnan’s strategic geographical location provides for natural advantage to connect to the greater economic zones in both Southeast and South Asia. The stability and security along the borders through multilateralism is significant for Beijing and BCIMEC makes a good taste case for emerging China. Amrita Jash is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
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