China denies to have given up on the proposed Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar or BCIM economic corridor that is slated to pass through northeast India.
Neither has India, despite its traditional reservations of opening up the country’s northeast.
The project made so far made little progress because of differences between India and China over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
China used to insist the BCIM corridor is one of the key routes of its grandiose Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). India opposes the BRI on grounds of sovereignty concerns as the CPEC passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
The Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar-Economic Corridor (BCIM) has been previously mentioned as part of the BRI when it was launched in 2013, but it did not figure in the list of 35 corridors mentioned during the 2nd Belt and Road Forum (BRF) held in Beijing in April this year.
But the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang told media briefing in Beijing on Monday that the BCIM has not been abandoned. “It is very much on board,” he said.
In fact the 13th meeting of BCIM forum to discuss the progress is being held on the sidelines of China – South Asia Business Forum currently being held in Yunnan province, he said.
Discussions are still going on to build the BCIM corridor, Geng said.
A joint statement issued at the end of the BRF mentioned only the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Nepal-China Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network, including Nepal-China cross-border railway and China-Myanmar economic corridor in the list from the South Asian region.
The BCIM was conspicuously absent from the list, setting off speculation that China has dropped it.
The 2800-km BCIM corridor proposes to link Kunming in China’s Yunnan province with Kolkata, passing though nodes such as Mandalay in Myanmar and Dhaka in Bangladesh before heading to Kolkata.
This is the only trans-regional growth corridor that traverses the remote northeastern states of India and connects it to neighbouring countries.
Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to take the BCIM corridor proposal forward during the Wuhan summit.
Indian officials say they are committed to take the BCIM forward but not if it is a part of BRI.
That perhaps explains why the Chinese dropped it as one of the BRI routes.
India says the BCIM predates the BRI and can be taken forward on a standalone basis.
The Chinese, it seems, are finally playing ball.
The Chinese can use the BCIM corridor much the same way even if it is not part of BRI.
This will serve as their opening to the Bay of Bengal and then into the Indian Ocean.
For the northeast, this could be a game changer because of its potential to attract tourism and certain kinds of manufacturing.