The stalled consultation process for the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) Economic Corridor is set to resume, with officials and scholars from the four countries meeting in Kolkata next week after a gap of more than two-and-half years.
The last meeting of the Joint Study Group (JSG), which has government sanction, was held at Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh in December 2014.
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.