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Effectiveness of Track II in promoting BCIM: The K2K example January 28, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, India, Mishra, Binoda Kumar , trackback

Binoda Kumar Mishra

The idea behind BCIM

Originating in 1999 as the Kunming Initiative, the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (hereafter BCIM) initiative is now  gathered for its 9th forum. There is optimism about the prospects of the initiative in promoting regional cooperation between the geographically contiguous BCIM countries. Contiguous countries all over the world are coming together to form blocs to harness benefits from the opportunities created by globalisation. Realising this, four institutes from the four countries initiated this idea of involving stake-holders and using experts to promote mutual development.

The region is not only geographically contiguous but also complementary in economic terms. But there are also certain negative similarities such as underdevelopment. Trans-border crime and other non-traditional threats are equally threatening. The idea behind BCIM is to address these issues and create an environment for mutual development focusing on the contiguous region. The initiative also seeks to promote people-to-people contact through tourism and cultural exchanges. And at the base is the objective of improving of trade and commerce .

The approach

The background note of the BCIM states clearly that it is a Track II initiative. The framers of BCIM intended the initiative to bridge the gap at the government level among the four nations. The approach has been to combine the civil society initiatives with the initiatives of the governments. BCIM aims to use the expertise of professionals in articulating the economic potentials of the contiguous region. Providing workable policy alternatives to the respective governments is a the primary objective.

How to promote the idea of BCIM

Since the four countries having different political systems and different experiences of bilateral relations, it is necessary to modify idealism with pragmatism. It is certain that the success of BCIM depends on the bilateral relationship between India and China.  Although there are certain positives in the present state of India-China relations, the rleationship is far from normal and is characterised by volatility. There are historical reasons for this, but these can be brushed aside in BCIM.  However, the possibility of India and China competing in the present and in the future owing primarily to their compulsions of development and livelihood must also be recognised. Both have a billion plus people and have the obligation of providing them with improved conditions. This may lead to natural competition for resources. It is natural to expect two competing countries to be sensitive towards the relative gains rather than absolute gains from any arrangement between them. One can see the logic of relative gains dictating bilateral policies. Therefore, any economic arrangement involving India and China must respect this compulsion for competition between the two.

Instead of looking for comprehensive cooperation, BCIM must concentrate on specific sectors. This would ensure limited demand from the states in terms of commitment and thus lessen the sense of loss in a relative gain calculation. The approach must be incremental. Such a graduated process entails that countries cooperating in a particular field should send positive messages through unilateral policy initiatives to induce reciprocation. Although I, for one, have previously shared the view that India is reluctant about BCIM, I am also of the view that interested parties have to persist with unilateral policy initiatives for a period of time in an incremental manner. This will asuage the concerns, both legitimate and perceptual, of the reluctant party.

The graduated reciprocation process has two merits in such a situation. First, it is suitable for operationalising the sectoral approach towards cooperation. Secondly, while the sectoral approach ensures the negative ramifications in a particular sphere do not spill over to other spheres of interaction and relationship, the graduated reciprocation process would ensure carry-over positives from each sector of cooperation cumulatively and would add strength to each stage and level of cooperation.

The agency

I am of the firm opinion that Track II Forums are best suited for initiating the task of graduated reciprocation. Although India is allegedly non-committal towards BCIM, this should be seen rather as an effort to maintain the Track II emphasis of the Forum. In emphasising the Second Track, India is attempting to ensure that the process is not held hostage to the periodic problems that occur in Track I relations between India and China. Therefore, India’s response should be interpreted as an effort to protect this important Forum from being negatively affected by undesirable perceptions about India-China relationship.

The K2K forum

India is thus fully committed to the sectoral approach through Track II means.  An example is the Kolkata to Kunming (K2K) Forum, which is the only such bilateral forum that is functioning progressively, unaffected by the fluctuations in the Track I relationship. Established between two research Institutes from Kolkata and Kunming in 2002, the K2K Forum has been slowly but steadily gaining strength and adding momentum to broader India-China interactions. During October 2010, we had the 6th meeting of the Forum at Dehong.  This adopted a “(Dehong) Statement” reflecting similar commitments sought under the BCIM arrangement. During its 8 years and 6 meetings, K2K has achieved a great deal. It has facilitated many positive developments between India and China at the sub-regional level. Maulan Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies (MAKAIAK), Kolkata, along with Yunnan Development Research Centre (YDRC), have patronised this Forum with full knowledge and support of the governments of India and China.

The first and the most important direct result is the air route between Kunming and Kolkata that started in 2008. The establishment of a Chinese consulate in Kolkata and Indian consulate in Guangzhou are also important. The K2K Forum has been a facilitator and instrumental in facilitating a number of positive understandings between various sectors from both sides. For example, in the economic sector, the Forum facilitated the MoUs between various business sectors – tea and tourism sectors are examples. Bengal Chamber of Commerce and their Yunnan counterparts are communicating well due primarily to the K2K facilitation.

In the academic sphere, K2K has been instrumental in many arrangements. There are now a good number of academic collaborations. The University of Calcutta has exchange programs with Yunnan University. Viswa Bharati University and Jadavpur University have also adopted Yunnan University as partners in some areas. At the institutional level, we have been involved in research and academic collaborative efforts with a number of institutes in Yunnan. Apart from Yunnan Development Research Centre, we have various kinds of interactions with institutes like Yunnan Academy of Social Science (South Asia Division), Yunnan University, China News Agency, Yunnan Institute of Culture and Science and Yunnan Institute of painting and Calligraphy. With the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences we have undertaken a project of exchange of scholars and translation of materials. On the occasion of Festival of India in China MAKAIAS, along with our K2K partners, organised an exhibition of paintings and photographs, having both economic and socio-cultural relevance. The photographs (on Stilwell Road) delved into the economic potential of the contiguous regions between India and China, while appreciating the contiguities and depicting the contrasts. The paintings, on the other hand, showcased mutual artistic observations that had developed as a result of previous India-China academic and cultural interactions. There is also constant facilitation of academic and business interactions between West Bengal and Yunnan.

Neither the stand alone achievements of K2K, nor their influence on the broader India-China relationship can be underestimated. These achievements indicate that the Track II forum is the most effective means of  fostering cooperation between India and China under the prevailing circumstances and small sectoral initiatives have more chance of inducing mutual cooperation. The usefulness of Track II forums is also demonstrated in the success of ASEAN in our neighbourhood. Thus, we can take some positive lesions from the moderate success of the K2K Forum and try to emulate its approach and methodology at the level of BCIM. Therefore, instead of considering the Track II nature of BCIM as an impediment, the attempt should be to use this feature of BCIM to articulate small-scale, benign, workable sectoral initiatives. Convinced parties in the arrangement must show commitment to such initiatives in order to induce reluctant parties to reciprocate in line with the ‘graduated reciprocation’ process.


1. ramakanta satapathy - March 1, 2012

a good write-up exhibiting positive and pragmatic FR approach for bilateral relationship that can ease tensions between two asian giants. what is most appealing is the belief of the writter in the Track II diplomacy and its implication for regional peace and progress.