August 19, 2016

Challenges for BCIM-EC: Bangladesh & Myanmar in perspective

Bahauddin Foizee

While the opportunities for the “Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Economic Corridor” (BCIM-EC) have been a good topic among the diplomatic and foreign affairs circles and also among the general watchers of Southern Asian politics, less has been heard about the challenges faced by the BCIM-EC. There happen to be bad things to all good things. While there are opportunities in this BCIM-EC, there are challenges too. With regard to Bangladesh and Myanmar, there are few challenges to make it operational: (i) armed insurgencies; (ii) lack of people to people communication; (iii) the Rohingya (Bengali) issue; (iv) sincerity from governments; & (v) relationship between China and India.
The BCIM-EC connects the relevant countries through a network of airways, railways, roads and waterways. It is supposed to connect China’s Kunming (Yunnan province) to India’s Kolkata through Myanmar’s Mandalay, Bangladesh’s Dhaka and Chittagong and India’s Northeast. The BCIM countries are inhabited by 2/5 (two-fifth) of the planet’s human population and includes 21st century’s new superpower China. BCIM-EC is aimed at improving the relevant countries’ infrastructures, energy resources, agriculture and trade-&-investment. As Bangladesh and Myanmar would be able to access the markets in India’s seven Northeast states and China’s Yunnan province through this BCIM-EC, both Bangladesh and Myanmar would become a lucrative destination for foreign direct investment. These two small countries may export their typical local products into the other two BCIM countries that are big enough to consume them in no time. Moreover, as China would be developing the infrastructure of BCIM countries for its own economy’s sake, such voluntary infrastructure-buildup would help progress the potential economies of Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The relevant countries in BCIM-EC, especially Bangladesh and Myanmar, will only benefit from BCIM-EC if it becomes operational after balancing all the challenges posed to its stable and uninterrupted functioning. The major challenge is undoubtedly the armed insurgencies in Myanmar that might act violently against the interests of the BCIM-EC and interrupt violently in the movements of consignments from one place in BCIM region to the other. There are a good number of armed insurgent groups across Myanmar. There is presence of such groups around the proposed BCIM-EC’s route that crosses over the country.
Among many insurgent groups in Myanmar, the notable ones are: the Kachin insurgents, the Karenni (Kayah) insurgents, the Karen (Kayin) insurgents and the Arakanese/Rohingya insurgents. Myanmar has been at armed conflict with these insurgent groups for decades and all sides have suffered way too much to carry on the fighting much longer. That is why Myanmar’s government has repeatedly tried to reach ceasefire agreement with the insurgents and attempted to persistently work for peaceful settlement. Most of the times, the ceasefires that were maintained by all sides had short lived. This time, a ceasefire deal has been reached at the last quarter of 2015 and this ceasefire has been largely continuing for a while now.
Another challenge is the cross-border communication of general people from the two sides of Bangladesh and Myanmar. People to people connection between two sovereign countries are the most effective ways to progress together and to keep a peaceful relationship between the concerned countries. This factor is particularly important when the concerned countries are next-door neighbours. There was a smooth and vibrant relation between the people of these two territories in the pre-Mughal era that continued till the British era. However, the post-British era saw degradation in the relationship between the people from both sides and circumstances only got worse when the Rohingya (Bengali) issue took the centre stage in shaping up Bangladeshis’ perceptions towards Myanmar. A large number of people from Bangladesh have some sort of anger against Myanmar because of the same.
Progress made by the governments within BCIM region, except China, are too slow to make BCIM-EC operational anytime soon.
It is also worth mentioning that there is lack of full confidence between China and India in their relations with each other. While China has been blamed by many Indian political analysts to cooperate with the Indian North Eastern armed groups, Chinese counterparts have accused India of assisting the West in continuously attempting to make China’s southwest border (precisely Tibet) unstable. The two giant neighbours fought a war in 1962 apart from the border-area conflicts that happen in intervals. China and India’s “lack of full confidence” in their relations with each other is a challenge for BCIM-EC. Such relationship between China and India is a hindrance for BCIM-EC to become operational and, thereby, functional.
Wrapping up
Bangladesh and Myanmar may work for reducing the mistrust between China and India, making it easier for these two Asian giants to cooperate with each other in order to make the BCIM-EC a reality. Moreover, taking a step towards genuine solution regarding the Rohingya (Bengali) issue would likely to normalize relation between people of Bangladesh and Myanmar. As Bangladesh and Myanmar governments have good relations, a good relation between the general mass from both sides would help to make progressive ideas like BCIM-EC to become operational and, thereby, functional.


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