North East in BCIM-EC: Challenges and Prospects
Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar-Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC) is a sub-regional grouping aimed at deepening friendly cooperation among the four member nations and linking South Asia with Southeast and East Asia by building multi-modal connectivity, harnessing economic complementaries and enhancing people-to-people contacts. The BCIM region is one of the richest in the world in terms of natural, mineral and other resources. The region covers 9% of the world’s total area, 7.3% of the global gross domestic product and involves 440 million people. The BCIM-EC has the potential to generate enormous economic benefits in the arena of trade, investment, energy, transport and tourism.
The primary focus of the economic corridor is to facilitate trade and connectivity between the landlocked and underdeveloped southwestern parts of China and the North Eastern region of India. The proposed economic corridor will originate from Kunming in China’s Yunan province and pass through Yangon and Mandalay in Myanmar, Chittagong-Dhaka-Sylhet in Bangladesh before entering North Eastern states, Bihar, Bengal and ending in Kolkata. In February 2012, the governments of all the four countries approved the proposal to construct a 2,800 km highway akin to the path used by the merchants centuries ago. The leaders of the four nations seek to revive the ancient “Southern Silk Road” and its southwestern trade route which emerged as the shortest journey between China and India and served as a highway for Chinese merchants carrying gold and silver in the Twelfth century.
A government-sponsored car rally was organised along the route to showcase the proposal’s immense future potentials. The K2K (Kolkata to Kunming) car rally was inaugurated by Chief Minister of Bengal Mamata Banerjee on February 22, 2013 at Saltlake Stadium in Kolkata. The car rally covered nearly 3000 km journey and followed the route: Kolkata-Jessore-Dhaka-Sylhet-Silchar-Imphal-Moreh-Tamu- Ka Lay-Mandalay-Lashio-Bhamu-Ruili-Tengchong-Erhai Lake-Dali-Kunming. The rally contributed significantly to the evolution of the BCIM-EC by identifying the segments of the route where investments are required to build and operationalise the K2K route.
The South Asian and Chinese leaders intend to transform the route into a robust economic corridor by reviving the old commercial ties. The economic benefits of the BCIM-EC are huge—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 flow of goods and people, reduce overland trade bottlenecks and increase the volume of trade.
The four nations emphasised the need to quickly improve physical connectivity in the region in the first Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting in the Chinese city of Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunan which shares border with Myanmar. The first inter-governmental meeting held on December 18-19, 2013, was perhaps the most significant development in the evolution of BCIM as it saw the smooth transition of the initiative from Track II to Track I Diplomacy. A number of important decisions were taken for institutionalisation of the BCIM cooperation and setting up the economic corridor.