No fruitful decision was reached at the stalled dialogue on an economic corridor at the third meeting of the Joint Study Group (JSG) of academics and officials of the four concerned countries held on April 25-26, 2017 at Kolkata. The dialogue was to finalise the road map for the BCIM economic corridor. However, it ended inconclusively, to be continued at the next meeting in Myanmar.
The last meeting of BCIM was held in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in December 2014. In that meeting it had been decided to elevate the dialogue to a Track I status, which means initiation of discussions between the governments of the four respective countries.
The head of Chinese delegation, Senior Vice-Minister of State Development and Planning Ministry Wang Xiaotao said in the inaugural session of the Kolkata meeting, “As the four countries sit together on this occasion, it is important to raise the setting up of an inter-governmental cooperation mechanism.”
Though China pushed for setting up an inter-governmental mechanism to elevate the process of implementing the corridor from Track II to Track I, this, however, has not happened.
However, a draft mechanism was shared for ‘inter-government cooperation’, prepared by the researchers of the four countries with the delegation from three other countries during the meeting.
China participated in the meeting with 30 members including the representatives of the Ministry of Commerce, National Energy Cooperation, Chinese financial institutions, the Chinese Embassy and consulate and other officials. The Indian delegation was headed by a former Indian Ambassador to Bangladesh, Rajeet Mitter, and included an additional secretary from the Ministry of External Affairs. A five-member Bangladesh delegation, headed by Bangladesh High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Riaz Hamidullah, participated in the meeting.
In the late 1990s the idea emerged from China’s Yunnan Province about possible sub-regional cooperation involving south-western China, eastern India and the whole of Myanmar and Bangladesh.
This envisages formation of a thriving economic corridor, focusing on cross-border transport, trade and commerce, people to people connect, setting up of special economic zones and industrial hubs and energy and telecommunication networks.
The Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor is an ambitious undertaking that hopes to connect Kolkata with Kunming, capital of the Yunnan province.
Starting from Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan province, the route passes through nodal points, such as Mandalay and Lashio in Myanmar. It heads towards Kolkata after passing through Imphal of Manipur and Silchar of Assam, before crossing Bangladesh via Sylhet and Dhaka, with branches extending to the ports of Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong.
The main artery of the 2,800-km corridor is nearly ready. A stretch of less than 200 km, from Kalewa to Monywa in Myanmar, needs to be upgraded as an all-weather road.
In the meeting, the Indian delegates presented their opinion cautiously. Delegation leader Rajeet Mitter said, “I wish to flag for your consideration that even as we explore greater connectivity between BCIM countries, we should be mindful of different domestic circumstances and developmental aspirations in our respective countries.”
“While forging ahead on our respective developmental paths,” he said, “the four countries are currently at different levels of development, and this should be an important consideration while we engage in mutually beneficial areas of cooperation.”
Echoing the same view, Riaz Hamidullah, who headed the Bangladesh team, said “There are limitations and differences between the member countries in resources or capacity and this needs to be taken in to account.”
The disparity in development, as mentionedby Indian delegates between Kunming and north-east India is perhaps the reason why New Delhi is yet to show their enthusiasm to the mega-BCIM corridor.