Why in News? India’s decision to skip the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) may have led to the exclusion of the Bangladesh- China- India- Myanmar (BCIM) Economic corridor from the list of projects covered by the China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) umbrella.
- Citing “sovereignty” concerns, India, for the second time, has not officially participated in the BRF, as CPEC—a flagship of the BRI—passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
- In an annex tagged with the Joint Communiqué of the Leaders’ Roundtable of the BRF, which concluded in Beijing recently, the Chinese foreign ministry website has not listed the BCIM as a project covered by the BRI—the giant connectivity initiative speared by China to revive the ancient Silk Road across Eurasia and Africa.
- Instead, South Asia is covered by three major undertakings—the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), the Nepal-China Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network, including Nepal-China cross-border railway, as well as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
About BCIM Economic Corridor:
- The BCIM economic corridor aims to connect Kolkata with Kunming, capital of the Yunnan province.
- It envisages formation of a thriving economic belt, focusing on cross-border transport, energy and telecommunication networks.
- Starting from Kunming, the route passes through nodal points, such as Spread: Mandalay and Lashio in Myanmar. It heads towards Kolkata after passing through Manipur and Silchar, before crossing Bangladesh via Sylhet and Dhaka, with branches extending to the ports of Cox Bazar and Chittagong.
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Importance of BCIM:
- India will benefit in terms of the development of the Kolkata port and the opening up of the economic potential of the northeast states.
- BCIM offers India an opportunity to create its own win-win relationship with China.
- India’s gain from the BCIM includes the ability to connect to the One Belt, One Road project thus opening up markets to the east.
- It can also use the economic corridor for negotiating downstream industries to be located within India.
- With natural gas reserves of about 200 trillion cubic feet, the largest in the Asia-Pacific, Bangladesh could become one of the major energy exporting countries.
- Tourism too will get a boost.
- BCIM can not only be a game-changer for this region in Asia, but is also pivotal for India’s ‘Act East’ Policy.
- Economic Benefits include access to several booming markets in Southeast Asia, improvement of transport infrastructure and setting up of industrial zones.
- The regional connectivity would facilitate cross-border movement of people and goods, reduce overland trade bottlenecks, ensure access and increase volume of trade.
- Substantially reduce transaction costs, enhance trade and investment and poverty alleviation in the region.
- Indian critics of BCIM state that China cannot be trusted, and cite the divergent positions of the two countries on Arunachal Pradesh and PoK.
- Security is a very important aspect of BCIM that ethnic insurgencies, terrorism, drug trafficking and the accompanying spread of HIV infections, smuggling, as well as cross-border human trafficking, threatened to derail the project.
Need of hour:
- The immediate priority for India is to build and upgrade infrastructure, including roads, railway network, waterways and air connectivity within north-eastern states.
- Work on the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway joining India’s Northeast with Thailand and other ASEAN members through Myanmar needs to be expedited. This network will provide connectivity between the isolated Northeast and the expanding economies of South East Asia.
- Similarly, the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project will help connect the Northeast with Myanmar as well as with West Bengal.
- Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) needs to be accorded the highest priority as it has great potential to deliver rich dividends quickly.
- Emphasis on the implementation of Act East Policy.
- In BCIM, a step-by-step approach is desirable in the form of people-centric projects in education, healthcare, skill development, tourism and cottage industries should be undertaken.
- Local talent, material and products should be utilised in this endeavour. China and India need to work together to bring about a fundamental change in their bilateral relations.