Will all roads lead to Beijing or Delhi? writes Neeta Lal for Asia Sentinel.
The recent endorsement by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of a multi-billion dollar construction corridor encompassing Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar – if it materializes – could redraw the economic and geopolitical map of Asia.
Termed “an international gateway to South Asia,” the BMIC corridor, as it is known, was the highlight of Li’s recent visit to India. The Chinese premier’s office commented that the link “will surely release enormous growth energy and provide new vitality for the Asian economic integration and global growth.”
Statements like this are the usual hyperbole of state visits and must be taken with skepticism. But this time China, over recent weeks, has publicly unveiled a huge burst of ambitious plans to further draw East Asia, including both South Asia and Southeast Asia, into its economic and political orbit.
“Connectivity” is China’s new mantra and the focus of Beijing’s long-term planning and strategic thinking, extending a web of rail, highway and air links all over the region and recently, during the visit of President Xi Jinping, offering an infrastructure bank to help build it. Given the region’s considerable natural resources, and China’s need for them to fuel its industrial growth, planners have all roads pointed towards Beijing.
It may well be grandiose thinking, since China has had troubled relations with many of its neighbors, particularly India, with continuing border disputes over the eastern India Assam region. It should also be noted that as the four stakeholders are all developing nations plagued by capital constraints, regional economic cooperation has moved on a slow growth trajectory.
They are also nations that have had considerable antipathy for each other, for instance with Bangladesh long suspicious of India and India with China. Myanmar is only now emerging from six decades of isolation and its basic infrastructure needs are enormous, let alone for sophisticated transport and communication links.
However, Li’s talks with Manmohan Singh, say policy watchers, have rejuvenated the idea of upgrading cooperation to a new level through the corridor.
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