The first China – South Asia Expo (an upgrade of the previous South Asian Countries Trade Fair, which was held each year during the past five years) has just taken place in Kunming. The objective of the expo is to promote cooperation and development between China and South Asian countries. The election of Kunming as the venue for the event reinforces its strategic role as the gateway not only to Southeast Asia but also to South Asia as a whole, including India.
It was not by coincidence that the focus of the expo was on India, after Premier Li Keqiang’s recent visit to the country in May, his first overseas visit since taking office in March. In his meeting with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, both leaders discussed the “Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation” also known as the BCIM trade corridor. Kunming had already been the venue of the Forum for its first meeting in 1999.
The BCIM economic corridor includes Yunnan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and states in Northeastern India, covering 1.65 million square kilometres, with a population of nearly 440 million people. Nevertheless, progress has been lacklustre since the inception of the corridor. Myanmar’s political situation, as well as the border dispute between India and China (the last standoff happened just a few days before the official visit), have hindered its development. As professor Bi Shihong from Yunnan University pointed out in a recent editorial,1 “it’s inevitable for India to open its northeast part, the border region that is politically sensitive. Cross-border trade could not only improve people’s standards of living, but also promote the construction of transportation infrastructure.”
The new China – South Asia expo could be a turning point in the implementation of the trade corridor, once political progress has taken place in Myanmar, and Sino-Indo relations enter into a new phase.
- Bi Shihong (2013), Trade corridor helps rejuvenate Asia. Global Times, 3 June