Kolkata: Negotiations on the stalled Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor are set to resume next week in Kolkata.
After a gap of over two years, the meeting of Joint Study Group (JSG) of academics and officials of the four countries on April 25-26 is expected to finalise the road map for the BCIM economic corridor, scholars at a seminar at Nanchong, southwest China revealed. The China West Normal University is hosting a conference of scholars from China, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka on the prospects of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in South Asia.
The last meeting of the BCIM was held in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in December 2014.
There is a perception among Chinese scholars that India had become lukewarm to the BCIM project by linking it with its reservations on the China-Pakistan economic corridor which passed through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Indian officials, however, declined the possibility of a connection between the two. However, there was a view expressed at the conference about India’s readiness for participation in standalone connectivity projects with China, which were not necessarily connected with the Beijing-led BRI. Both the BCIM and the CPEC predate the formal launch of the BRI.
Separately, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, at a Beijing press conference on Tuesday, referred to the BCIM economic corridor. Mr. Wang said that the four countries are ready to advance the economic corridor within the framework of the BRI.
“We have taken note of India’s positive attitude on this,” he observed. “In addition to this we can have further discussion and consultation on possible areas of cooperation within areas of the Belt and Road.”
Referring to India’s concerns regarding CPEC, he pointed out that, “Certain sections of the CPEC have raised concerns on the Indian side, but these disputes are not the result of the economic corridor and the economic activities in this region are not the direct result of CPEC.”
He added, “China has been providing support to Pakistan in these areas for many, many years. This is a contribution China is making for development of our neighbouring countries.”
The BCIM economic corridor is an ambitious undertaking that hopes 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 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’s Bazar and Chittagong.
Chinese experts in Yunnan say that except for a 200-km stretch between Silchar in Assam and Manipur, and a similar length between Kalewa and Monywah in Myanmar, the central artery of the route is nearly functional.
Officials from the external affairs ministry and scholars and academics from India will take part in the meeting to be held during April 25-26. The objective behind resuming the dialogue will be to finalise the JSG report.
The BCIM-EC aims to link Kunming, the capital of China’s southwestern border state of Yunnan, with Kolkata in West Bengal via Mandalay in Myanmar and Dhaka and Chittagong in Bangladesh.
The idea of creating a corridor of regional integrity was first floated in 1999 but there has been little progress in implementing the grand plan.
Officially, China and India say the process of finalising the BCIM is not easy because of several reasons, including the restive nature of the region the planned corridor will pass through.
Privately, diplomats and bureaucrats from the two countries blame each other for the tardy progress.
Though it predates President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by several years, the Chinese government made BCIM part of the BRI, further increasing India’s unease.
“BCIM-EC predates BRI and it should be pursued as an autonomous initiative rather than as a subset of BRI. All four BCIM-EC partners should continue to have co-ownership of this project, which should not be subsumed under another construct,” said a former Indian diplomat.
Chinese experts feel that holding of the meeting in Kolkata indicates progress.
“India’s attitude towards OBOR (One Belt, One Road) is clear – support some parts of OBOR, oppose and hedge the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the 21st Maritime Silk Road and delay and change BCIM,” Liu Zongyi from the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies said at the “BRI Initiative South Asia” seminar organised by the China West Normal University on Tuesday.
“Though the JSG dialogue didn’t take place, but the door for Track II dialogue between China and India has never been closed. Several academic seminars were held and information and views were exchanged,” Guo Suiyuan, associate professor at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, told Hindustan Times.
“At this particular point of time, we need to re-emphasise that BCIM-EC is a cooperation platform for economic development and prosperity of the region and does not involve some of the sensitive issues that exist between China and India,” Guo said.