Sunday, 6 September 2015

New Asian History | BCIM and CPEC

  • All history is geographically located and influenced. Similarly, all geography is shaped, defined and redefined by history.
  • This is evident not only from world history but also from the history of Asia — the glory of old Asia, its decline in colonial times, and its more recent rise again.
  • The dialectic between history and geography manifests itself through the interplay of three factors — geopolitical, geo-economic and geo-cultural/civilisational.
    • For nearly three centuries, the geopolitical and geo-economic realities of Asia were negatively impacted by Europe and the West in general.
  • Asia has begun to write its own destiny now.
    • The 20th century was marked by Asia’s liberation from colonial rule and imperialist subjugation. The history of the 21st century will chiefly be the story of Asia’s rise, a process that is already underway in some parts of the continent. 
    • The other underdeveloped parts of Asia, especially in South Asia and South-East Asia, are craving to become a part of this story.
The Asian tigers
  • Until now, the political boundaries carved out on the geography of South Asia and South-East Asia had become barriers for the countries in this vast region to overcome socio-economic underdevelopment caused by history. Now, thanks to advances in trade, transport and technology, the geography of this region can be made an ally to create a new history of shared prosperity, progress and peace, in addition to a revitalisation of age-old, cultural-spiritual-civilisational ties. 
  • 21st century is called the Asian century, mainly due to the advancement of economies of china and India.
  • Asia-Europe-Africa connectivity: China with its $8 Tn economy and huge forex reserves , is trying to establish trade connectivity with Europe , Africa and other Asian countries.
    • ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ and the ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’.
  • India: cultural angle:
    • ‘Mausam’ and the ‘Spice ‘Route’ in the Indian Ocean region and beyond 
    • But - these are nowhere as comprehensively projected, nor backed with requisite investments yet, as China is doing in the case of its ‘One Belt One Road’ vision.
    • [The ‘Mausam’ project envisages the re-establishment of India’s ancient maritime routes with its traditional trade partners along the Indian Ocean. It was launched in June 2014. The ‘Spice Route of India’ visualises the India-centered link-up of historic sea routes in Asia, Europe and Africa.]
  • Be it China’s strategy or India’s, neither can fully or smoothly become a reality in South Asia without a strong partnership between the world’s two most populous and civilisationally rich nations.
BCIM:
  • The key to the success of this strategy is the early implementation of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor, which envisages a network of modern road, railway, port and communication and trade connectivities in a region stretching from Kolkata to Kunming in southern China.
    • Even though BCIM is one of the richest regions in the world — in terms of natural and human resources and home to nearly 500 million people — it is also one of the least integrated areas, economically as well as socially. - A BIG OPPORTUNITY
    • Before history changed its map in the last century, the people of this region not only shared a geography without rigid borders, but also close racial, linguistic, cultural and spiritual interconnections. Sadly, while the neighbouring Association of South East Asian Nations community has become a zone of prosperity, the BCIM region (barring southern China) is mostly underdeveloped, India’s seven north-eastern States providing a stark example.
  • Benefits to India:
    • India will benefit from BCIM, which was conceptualised 16 years ago, in many self-evident ways.
    • For instance, Agartala is 1,650 kilometres from Kolkata when one travels through the ‘Chicken’s Neck’, the narrow strip of land north of West Bengal, which is only 23 km wide. In contrast, the distance gets reduced to just 350 km if the journey passes through Bangladesh.
  • At least one major reason behind Kolkata’s economic decline after India’s independence is its unnatural isolation from its natural eastern neighbourhood.
  • Apart from denting the development of West Bengal and India’s north-east, this has hurt Bangladesh too.
  • BCIM also benefits India and Bangladesh in other ways:
    • With natural gas reserves of about 200 trillion cubic feet, the largest in the Asia-Pacific, Bangladesh could become one of the major energy exporting countries. Yet, today it imports 500 MW of electricity from India and is planning to import an equal amount from Myanmar.
    • Tourism too will get a boost. Bangladesh attracts less than one million foreign tourists in a year. For India’s north-eastern States, the figure is less than 2,00,000. Contrast this to the fact that Vietnam attracts 8 million, Cambodia 5 million, and Thailand 26 million foreign tourists annually.
  • Modi should prioritise BCIM because it can not only be a game-changer for this region in Asia, but is also pivotal for his ‘Act East’ Policy. 
Connecting CPEC and BCIM:
Besides arguing for BCIM’s expeditious implementation, the logic of India-China regional cooperation needs to be extended westwards through India by connecting BCIM with the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
  • CPEC is an infrastructural corridor, running over 3,000 km, will connect Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province to the Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. 
  • China has pledged to invest $46 billion on CPEC — roughly one-fifth of Pakistan’s annual GDP.
  • India should welcome this initiative.
  • CPEC will no doubt boost Pakistan’s progress and prosperity. It will also help Pakistan tackle many social and other internal problems, including the menace of religious extremism and terrorism.
  • It is in India’s vital interest to see a stable, prosperous, progressive, united and democratic Pakistan, which is at peace with itself and also at peace with all its neighbours.
LIMITATIONS OF CPEC: However, CPEC in its present form, unlike BCIM, does not comprehensively capture the benefits of regional cooperation.
  • It needs to be extended into landlocked Afghanistan, which is in urgent need of national reconstruction after several decades of war.
  • It should also be extended into India through Kashmir and Punjab, the two provinces which are today divided between India and Pakistan.
A greater regional co operation can be achieved if CPEC extends to Afghanistan and connects itself to BCIM through Kashmir and Punjab.
A greater regional co operation promises the development of South Asia and the realisation of dream of 21st century being an Asian century.
 OTHER SUGGESTIONS:
  • Why stop from Kunming to Kolkata ---> extend it to Kathmandu, Colombo, Kashmir,  Karachi and Khyber
Way ahead:
Rich dividends in terms of peace and development can be reaped if India and China work together to synergise the proposed regional cooperation projects that interconnect Bangladesh, Pakistan and other neighbouring countries.

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