Right from the early days of British rule in India the idea of a corridor joining Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar has often been talked about. Lord Curzon during his time in India thought about a route linking Bengal, China and Myanmar, which was aimed to increase the trade between the countries and help India flourish in trade along its eastern borders.
The Chinese Premier Li Keqiang recently proposed the idea of the BCIM corridor during his visit to India in 2013. The first official meeting of the joint study group was held in December 2013. The idea of BCIM is to connect Bangladesh, Northeast India, Myanmar and Yunnan province through a network of roads, railways, waterways and airways. The BCIM economic corridor is a modern day Silk route or the South Western Silk route. Professor Sobhan was the pioneer who advocated that multi-modal transport connectivity. This initiative and the resulting infrastructure development could significantly stimulate trade and investment and consequently accelerate growth and poverty alleviation in this region.
In this silk route, Kolkata will be connected to Kunming via Dhaka and Naw Pyi Taw. The BCIM corridor will allow all the four countries to exploit the existing complementarities in trade in terms of agricultural products as well as manufactured goods. This can also result in increased energy cooperation in the region and once again this can lead to the overall development of the highly mountainous terrain of Northeast India.
However, Myanmar along with Nepal, Bangladesh has been a safe haven for insurgents, terrorists and other individuals from India. This makes the BCIM corridor complicated. With easy cross border access provided by the corridor it will make it even harder for India to check the flow of insurgents in and out of the country. But India despite its baggage of security concerns is incrementally moving to give the idea a fair shot. North East India is an ethnic mosaic and rich in natural resources. Despite endowed with abundant natural resources, the Union government never seemed serious about properly utilizing those to bring about economic growth and prosperity in the region since the time of independence. North East has gained prominence in the foreign policy making only after the articulation of “Look East Policy” in the early 1990s. But at the same time, it is considered as the most backward region of the country. Questions on the impact on people, culture and bio-diversity once North East’s borders are opened for trade and transit are what worry many experts.
India’s increase in its outreach towards Myanmar is because India feels threatened by the intensification of Chinese presence in South Asia. India and Myanmar share a 1600 km long land border and a maritime boundary in the northeast. This makes India’s tie with Myanmar all the more important, as Myanmar is the gate way for India to the South East of Asia and India the gate to South Asia for Myanmar.
The BCIM corridor is beneficial for both countries as it helps in the increase of trade and development of both the region. The geographical closeness also provides India with an opportunity to develop northeastern states by ramping up trade with Myanmar as well as by taking up joint infrastructure development. A healthy bilateral relationship between India and Myanmar could open up the Northeast for tourism potential from much better integrated Southeast Asian countries. Better ties with Myanmar would also help New Delhi in tackling insurgencies in several northeastern states. Collaboration with the Myanmar’s armed forces would ensure that insurgents don’t find safe haven in the neighboring country.
The only worry for India at the end of the day is the presence of China in Myanmar. India should be cautious in its decisions regarding international trade and relations with Myanmar. Myanmar being located in the pivot of India’s route to South East Asia allows Myanmar to be in the driving seat with the “China card” in hand. The bilateral trade between the two countries is expected to touch $3bil by 2015. India is expected to invest about $2.5bil in Myanmar in the coming years. China will remain a key partner of Myanmar despite the winds of change. Myanmar’s return to the international fold is both an opportunity as well as a challenge to India. The BCIM corridor is only one of many important economic pacts between the two countries.
Myanmar holds the key for the security in the North East of India and hence it is of utmost importance that the current government handles the delicate relation in a cautious manner.