• Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Periscope

Looking East

Ahmede Hussain

In the first half of this millennium the sleeping giant was about to wake from its decade-long slumber. China in the last few years has declared its arrival in the global economic scene, and it is now second only to the United States in terms of nominal GDP and purchasing power parity. It is only six years that China is going to surpass the US to become the largest economy in the world.
India, too, thanks to liberalisation of its economy in the early nineties, has entered a new phase where foreign direct investment in the country is increasing fast and it can boast of a sizeable middle class that is now flexing its economic muscle. The demand for consumer goods is rapidly increasing and along with it is its increased production.  
Myanmar (Burma), one of the world’s last hermit kingdoms, is now opening up, albeit slowly. The country, which closed its door to the rest of the world since the military took over in 1962, has remained impoverished, despite having some of the finest sources of natural resources. Now that Myanmar is closer to us than its geographical location, it is time to give what it deserves, keeping in mind its potential for the future.  
Since the last decade regional connectivity has become the byword for economic progress. Bangladesh has two options at hand to connect to China, which experts believe is going to be hugely beneficial for Bangladesh and its economy. In a recent meeting in Kungming, China, the delegates of Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation (BCIM) has agreed to set up a corridor that will connect the city with Kolkata via Mandalay, Myanmar and Chittagong and Dhaka of Bangladesh.
Even though Route I (via India and Myanmar) seems the most viable at this stage, Route II (via Myanmar) has more geo-strategic significance, M Shahidul Islam, a Research Fellow at IGS, Brac University says in a presentation on connectivity. He is right in saying that the BCIM corridor will become a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia.
But the route to Kungming has some missing link, literally and metaphorically too. Both India and Myanmar have strategic concerns. India, even though a friendly government is in power in Bangladesh, is a little more than uncomfortable to see China's growing clout in what it considers its own backyard. Myanmar has also had the perennial fear of opening up or what it entails. China is no exception either. It also feels edgy of India's apparent fondness of Myanmar.
The four countries should keep in mind that development cannot take place on an isolated island. It is especially so in Southasia and Southeast Asia where two of the worlds would be economic powerhouses quietly nestle.  Connectivity will be hugely beneficial for the Chittagong and Kolkata Ports as they both would be the only two gateways to one of the most thriving economic blocks of the world.
The BCIM 's next meeting is going to be held in June this year. It is time we think beyond regional cooperation to form a greater economic association. A union following the EU model can be developed where free flow of labour, mutual respect and brotherhood, will break the artificial barrier between friends.

twitter: @ahmedehussain

Published: 12:00 am Friday, February 14, 2014

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