BCIM will take off after Wuhan

BCIM will take off after Wuhan

Subir Bhaumik,

One of the key takeaway from the Xi-Modi ‘informal summit at Wuhan appears to be the long dormant BCIM. The separate communiques issued after Wuhan alluded to BCIM positively. The two leaders seem to have agreed to take forward projects under the BCIM process.

So far China has been keen on BCIM while India has gone slow, unsure of the fallout of a proposed economic corridor over its turbulent northeast.

Chinese consul general in Calcutta Ma Jhanwu told a press conference in the city on Monday that projects under the BCIM would take off now because the two leaders had agreed to take the process forward. There is no reason to believe Ma Jhanwu would say this publicly unless cleared by Beijing. He also said millions of dollars in Chinese investments would flow into BCIM linked or related projects.

That should make not only neighbours Bangladesh and Myanmar happy but also states in India’s East and northeast.

An opinion survey conducted by the Guwahati based CESPR two years ago revealed that a complete cross section of decision makers interviewed in the region looked forward to the BCIM as a potential game changer.

The BCIM economic corridor is destined to traverse the region and if that attracts big Indian and Chinese corporate investments, the backward regions of the four countries would have much to look forward to.

India may not have withdrawn objections to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC because sovereignty issues are involved but it’s decision to go ahead with the BCIM is definitely a breakthrough not only for Sino-Indian relations but also for Bangladesh and Myanmar who usually don’t like to be caught up in the cross currents of Sino-Indian rivalry.

The Wuhan spirit raises prospects for meaningful Sino-Indian cooperation in the East that can transform the peripheries of China,India, Bangladesh and Myanmar from a zone of conflict into one of growth.

That would also rub on to conflict regions like Rakhine that straddle the BCIM EC. A Sino-Indian consensus to push Myanmar to start the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees can not only help Bangladesh resolve a difficult problem in an election year but also bring peace to Rakhine where China and India have much at stake. China funded Kyauk Phyu port and SEZ and India ‘s Kaladan multi modal connectivity project based around the renovated Sittwe port are both located in Rakhine. So, both countries have a vested interest in peace in Rakhine.

If BCIM has to take off, the Myanmar peace process must work because the economic corridor is destined to pass through areas of Myanmar where ethnic rebel armies are involved in conflict with the central government and the army.

It stands to reason that the Myanmar peace process has a much greater chance of success if China and India together put their efforts behind it. That will rub off positively on Northeast India and it’s multiple conflicts because both Delhi and Beijing know a regional corridor like BCIM EC cannot work if conflicts continue in areas over which it passes.

The Wuhan impact on BCIM EC may also revive the Kolkata Kunming Forum or K2K dialogue that had run the course for 15 years before getting grounded by the tensions around the Doklam stand-off.

This is the most effective track 2 process between the border states of the two Asian giants and its revival can unlock much in the growth potential of the India’s East and northeast and the volatile neighbourhood. That is good news for Asia’s most strategic link region.