Blur The Boundaries – For a new Hub of Asian Sub-Regionalism Churning the ocean

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Blur The Boundaries – For A New Hub of Asian Sub-Regionalism

Churning the ocean :
Old metaphor for the new crises. I feel , whenever we have another crisis of any kind the right place to meet is the Angkor complex. In the history, art and architecture of the Angkor Vat there is an answer to every crisis. Churing the ocean is just one of them. (Brief story of Deva-Asura joint effort to find Amrita (Elixir) that will end disorder in the universe. In the churning process all the evils that caused the crises came to Ocean’s surface.
The crises : Blessings in disguise?
Calamities come together, but many of tem as blessings in disguise
India realizes its infrastructural inadequacies, surge in road building resulting in people’s income level and quality of life
As far sighted as ever, China finds new avenues of cheap acquisitions in oil, minerals and chemicals from every known source around the world
Constructive capitalist culture – millions won’t have to starve for multiplying the number of billionaires. World opinion favours more inclusive growth
Awareness of the three major’ threats of volatile energy prices, food scarcity and climate change – UN ESCAP
Multilateralism defies definitions. Small less developed countries more aware of the need for additional cooperative mechanisms .
Re-defining Multilateralism :

Congrats Cambodia! Its. laudable initiative announced on March 11. Passport holders from Vietnam, Laos and Thailand allowed to travel within the country for a month. Vietnam’s delta, Laos’ Champasak and Cambodia’s Rattanakiri to be specially benefited. Will strengthen trade, tourism and solidarity, while still remaining within the ASEAN and GMS groupings with a lot of achievements to their own credit. Mekong countries’ multiple level success in stark contrast with the failure of SAARC. India and Pakistan deserve to be blamed.

Asia’s Political and Economic outlook :
The points raised in the programme for this session

Asia’s political and economic outlook : there are enough reasons to be positive in general. But Terrorism as a non-taxable Foreign Direct Investment targeting potentially progressive countries, definite answers difficult.

Forecast for India: neither recession nor depression. Both exports and imports lower by about 30% in February this year, real estate tending to find buyers at prices just 30% lower and constructions mostly continuing, no appreciably GDP changes foreseen. At the worst, India may face stagnation for a time, nothing worse. If Swiss Bank secrecy law is withdrawn, that will result in huge amounts of hidden cash will be back in India.
Links between politics and economics? Plenty in Asia. Including India and China. Remember Bank of China’s I P O about 4 years back? Even with nearly 35% N.P.A the offer was subscribed by 200% percent when closing in Hong Kong.

Political and Economic outlook (contd..)
Observers wondered, by highlighting such economic success, did Chinese leaders want to convince the common man that their administrative system was the ideal one for the country? China’s political strength always favourably impacts its economic and geo-political agenda. Offer of $18 billion to Thailand in the 97 crisis showed its leadership qualities.
One reason for India’s temporary well being may be the large amount of cash that will be circulating during the coming general election. India’s insurgency is both political and economic in origin.

Recent price rise of Tea partly due to politics in India. Huge pay rise for govt. employees is economic by nature but arguably political in motivation.

Lessons to learn and the way ahead :
There are many lessons to learn from the current crises. The various stimuli by the US, China and others are anything more than a first aid treatment. The depth of the crises varies from country to country. The existing regional cooperative mechanisms provide some sense of security even to the weaker constituents. But essential for them to look for alternative economic alignments. Even while remaining within the larger groupings like SAARC and ASEAN.
Peripheral areas of most countries deprived of prosperity around the centre. Examples: India’s North East and China’s South West. whose per capita is only about 50% of the national average .In the same manner some member countries of ASEAN like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar find themselves the least developed and feel justified, even necessary, to join other trans-national sub-regional cooperation outside the existing state and regional structures. In other words, sub-regionalism is a sustainable to the present crisis in many parts of Asia, perhaps the only solution now worth considering,
Need for a new Asian Sub–Regional grouping :
For the purpose of today’s debate, I have chosen a tans-national sub-region where I have been personally engaged for at least ten years. It covers a area literally covering the Roof of the World, comprising at least five countries or parts thereof, namely Nepal, Bhutan, parts of Myanmar, China and India and possibly Bangladesh.
Special features of the proposed Sub-Region :

  • Abode of Gods and Goddesses of Hindu and Buddhist pantheon, Ethnic migrations. Religious tolerance,

  • Origin of all the major Asian rivers with several lakes. Even tea originated here.

  • Tangible and intangible heritage, Part of Southern Silk Route, Tea & Horse civilization

  • Centrally located, Geographically contiguous and culturally convergent. India – China interface. Will be more effective than SAARC because all the
    sub-regions are contiguous to each other unlike in the case of SAARC.

  • Stunningly beautiful with endless attractions. Most diverse in bio-resources, all inviting to be exploited . Could herald the much awaited Asian century.

Bangladesh- China- India- Myanmar Cooperation

(The Kunming Initiative)
This Initiative which began 10 years back as a Track II diplomatic initiative aimed at developing economic cooperation mainly between parts of the four countries through border trade and tourism. There were six annual meetings ending with the one in Dhaka in 2007. In spite of mounting pressure from China to change it into Track I, it still remains on Track II only. Opening of the World War II Stillwell Road between China’s Yunnan and India’s North East is an essential pre-requisite which India is not enthusiastic about due to the contentious border dispute remaining unresolved for half a century. Political uncertainties in Myanmar and Bangladesh and the insurgency movements across India’s North East stand in the way of further progress of the initiative.
Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Neighbour Countries Cooperation:

Enthusiastically inaugurated in Tibetan capital Lhasa in 2005 by the U N D P and China the aim was to explore economic cooperation through cross border trade and investment and tourism .India was not formally consulted in advance and opted out of the two-day conference with myself being the lone Indian participant with only Track II credentials. Europe and USA along with UN organizations participated with delegates from Pakistan,, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal. Failing to institutionalize the project it was later incorporated into the new China South Asia Business Forum. Besides revival of tourism links between Tibet and India I made proposals for SME clusters and vocational trade centres on Tibet-West Bengal border using each other’s expertise.

China South Asia Business Forum, inaugurated in Kunming, in December 2004, it was attended by Indian Trade organizations and those from Nepal , Myanmar and Bhutan among others.
Nathu-la: Opening of Strategic Border Trade & Tourism :


This is one event in which I did not personally participate though I had joined the chorus for early opening of border trade at a height of over 14000 feet on the Himalayas. The decision to open the border in 2006 and China’s decision to treat Sikkim as a part of India augered well for sub-regional cooperation with ramification s beyond Sino-Indian borders . India and China also have two other sub-Himalayan border trade points in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal. The border trade between India and Myanmar through Manipur in India’s North East and the one between China and Myanmar through Yunnan’s Ruili are of significance in the context of growing sub-regional cooperation among the countries covered by this paper.

K 2 K Conference/ Forum:

K 2 K stands for Kunming-Kolkata . Started in 2003 as a public initiative by private NGOs and individuals in Eastern sub-region of India, it had active governmental participation from Chinese side through several organizations under the banner of Yunnan Development Research Centre. The presence of top Yunnan govt. officials at the Calcutta functions and their repeated reference to reviving the ancient Eastern Silk Route revealed China’s enthusiasm for sub-regional cooperation with Eastern parts of India for mutual benefit. At the 4th annual meeting held in last November in the ancient Chinese

City of Dali the conference was upgraded to Forum level, thereby institutionalizing its set up. An ambitious agenda for the current year is being worked out, taking into account every aspect of sub-regional cooperation within the framework of India-China declaration made in Beijing in 2004.

Tourism initiative:
First time in its history, the Tourism Dev. Corporation of West Bengal (capital Calcutta) an eastern sub-region of India had its participation in Kunming annual Trade Fair in June 2004, generating reciprocal interest among potential tourists from South West China sub-region.
Progress in Aviation and Consular activities:
I had the privilege of participating in frequent discussions with the then vice governor of Yunnan and now the head of China’s Tourism Dept. in Beijing Mr. Shao Qiwei and other leaders of Yunnan Govt. on the need for a direct flight. With similar efforts from various circles and finding it a profitable venture China Eastern Airlines opened direct flight between Kunming and Kolkata in November 2007. Prior to that, both the countries had agreed to open a consulate in Kolkata, all of which together resulted in a spurt of movements across the sub-regions. Today most Kolkatans use Kunming as a transit route to various destinations like, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Chengdu and even Hong Kong.
Sudden spurt in activities of academic cooperation between universities in Yunnan and eastern India has been another interesting fallout of this new sub-regional travel facility.
Relations Building for Business Co-operation :
I happened to be first Indian with a business background to visit Yunnan Provisional Chamber of Commerce(YPCC) after the India China Border war of 1962 . Yunnan Chamber’s enthusiasm resulted in further exchanges culminating in the signing of an MOU between Indian Chamber of Commerce(ICC) during the visit of a 16 member Yunnan delegation.

Comments on proposed to Stillwell Road

China is eager to reopen the historical road which stretches from Ledo in Assam to Kunming through Myanmar for opening trade and tourism route to Eastern India and Bangladesh. The project is yet to take off due to Sino Indian differences. Enormous potential as a economic corridor. By linking with GMS such an economic corridor will enhance growth of the Asian triangle of China India and Asean .So we find the proposed sub-regional framework will not compete but will only compliment the larger Regional groupings like SAARC and Asean.

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