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BCIM corridor key to development of border regions

BCIM corridor key to development of border regions

The Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor is a test case for cooperation between India and China in regional development as well as addressing common challenges. India’s development initiatives in the Mekong region and China’s growing presence in South Asia are now converging in the BCIM region. India and China’s inroads into each other’s peripheries have increased their economic presence and political profile. The ideas driving the BCIM economic corridor project are a combination of domestic and external interests of both New Delhi and Beijing, notwithstanding the security reservations in some quarters of the Indian establishment. The past decades have witnessed phenomenal economic growth in both India and China. A major challenge has been to address the economic imbalance between the coastal developed regions and the underdeveloped frontier regions. Given the continental size of both, the interior regions have not benefited as much as the coastal regions that enjoy the geographical advantage of maritime connectivity. The BCIM project is an important part of New Delhi’s and Beijing’s strategies to open up their landlocked frontier regions to the neighboring countries. Yunnan Province of China is a landlocked region far-off from the booming coastal areas in the east. Regional cooperation allows China to provide sea access to its southwest provinces or what some Chinese scholars refer to as “from continental to maritime economies.” Since the launching of the “Gateway Strategy” in 2009, Yunnan has been made the gateway to Southeast and South Asia with several networks of road, rail, and air connectivity being planned to connect Yunnan with the neighboring countries. An important part of the strategy is to revive the ancient “Southern Silk Road,” believed to have connected China with India. Within the renewed China’s “Going Out” policy, Yunnan’s geographical location that shares common borders with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam is seen as the gateway. Similarly, India’s landlocked Northeast region has lagged behind compared to other parts of the country. Within the “Look East” policy, New Delhi’s strategy has been to encourage greater economic integration of the Northeast with the neighboring economies through border trade and connectivity to provide sea access to the region. Like Yunnan Province, the Northeast region shares common borders with
Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China, making it the bridge between India and its eastern neighbors. This is also in line with India’s new approach toward its periphery that aims at creating a regional environment conducive for economic growth. The idea of regional connectivity has become synonymous with New Delhi’s new regional diplomacy. The border regions of the BCIM countries have a complex development-security nexus. The protracted ethnic conflicts in India’s northeast and northern Myanmar have had serious security and development impacts on the border areas of the BCIM region. The “geographical isolation” argument has long been the main reason for the underdevelopment of these border areas, fuelling and
sustaining ethnic unrest. The BCIM region has a geographical advantage of connecting South, Southeast and East Asia. This subregion is viewed as having the potential to promote the economic integration of Asia. Two issues could emerge with serious implications. The line dividing “internal affairs” and “external interference” may narrow and if not handled carefully, could even threaten relations among the countries involved. China’s rethink of its “Going Out” policy in the region, particularly, after its experiences in Myanmar, is critical for the BCIM project. An engagement policy that is guided by respect and sensitivity to culture and the environmental concerns of local people is key for the success of “win-win cooperation” in these border regions of BCIM countries, which are rich in biodiversity and ethnically diverse people. The BCIM economic corridor has the potential of transforming a conflict zone into a cooperation zone. This can happen only if adequate measures are taken to check any possible negative impacts of the corridor by involving all of the key stakeholders. The author is a Research Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi .By K. Yhome – Eurasia Review

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