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Kolkata-to-Kunming: Experts debate contours of BCIM corridor

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bcim-icwaThe BCIM corridor, an idea which has been in the making for over the last decade, is moving from the ideational stage to tangible exploratory steps to make it a reality. China has had already been proactively rooting for this defining connectivity project linking India and China, two of Asia’s leading economies, with Bangladesh and Myanmar, which are also itching to take their place under the Asian sun. But India, too, despite its baggage of security concerns, is incrementally moving to give the idea a fair shot.

The twinning of Kolkata and Kunming as sister cities, which was unveiled during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to China in October, was a clear indication that the two Asian powers seem ready to walk the talk.  As China gears up to host the first meeting of Joint Study Group on the BCIM corridor, India’s leading think tank, the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), organised a brainstorming session December 5 in New Delhi, with leading experts to flesh out the framework and details of the proposed corridor, which could potentially have a force-multiplier effect on physical and economic connectivity and integration across Asia.   Rajiv Bhatia, the director-general of the ICWA and a former ambassador to Myanmar, underlined that the discussions were aimed at “spelling out a realistic vision of BCIM-EC by defining its contours, potential scope, integral elements, and practical modalities for realising the vision.” Conjuring up a holistic picture of the BCIM corridor, Mr Bhatia stressed that the BCIM-EC should concern itself with multi-faceted connectivity, economic cooperation, people-to-people exchanges, institutional links and much more.

“In terms of the components of cooperation, we are going to talk about an unhindered flow not only of ideas but also of people, products, services, energy, investments and technology. It is no longer a matter about roads and transport links only; it is about setting up infrastructure and improving existing environment for new industrial production and new units of service industry etc. that create employment and contribute to visible economic development. It is about lowering the walls, but not our guard.”

While the BCIM corridor remains a work in progress, there seems to be a steadily growing acceptance among India’s diplomatic strategic establishments that the corridor, when it shapes up, will bring manifold benefits to India’s north-eastern region. This is not to gloss over enduring concerns among some influential strategic sections in India that, if not handled properly, the corridor could end up deepening China’s increasing footprints in two of India’s key neighbouring countries, and perhaps more worryingly, over India’s north-eastern region.  More informed discussions, like the one organised by the ICWA, will help bring the much-needed clarity to the scope and ambition of what was originally called the ‘Kunming Initiative,’ and a sense of how projects like these could tangibly impact the promise of the much-heralded Asian resurgence.

 


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