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Official sanction to Kunming Initiative

Aditi Phadnis  |  New Delhi 

A meeting of the Kunming Initiative in November this year is likely to be attended by officials from the external affairs ministry, bestowing official recognition on a Track-II move for sub-regional cooperation between China, India, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Ren Jia, vice-president of the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, who was part of a delegation led by Vice-Governor of the Yunan province Shao Qiwei in India on the invitation of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to attend a business conclave, said she hoped that after the November meeting, the Kunming Initiative would upgrade itself to an official dialogue.
This would enable governments of participant countries to put in place, some of the steps suggested by the Initiative.
The Kunming Initiative got its name on August 17, 1999, at a conference on regional cooperation and development between China, India, Myanmar and Bangladesh held in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in the southwestern region of China, when scholars, academics and delegates from trade bodies acclaimed a proposal to revive the Stilwell Road, or the Old Burma Road.
The Stilwell Road, which stretches from Ledo in Assam to Myanmar across the Phangsu Pass and joins Bhamo in Myanmar and then extends to Yunnan province of China. The road covers a distance of 1,043 miles from Ledo to Kunming. The distance from Ledo to Kolkata is about 1,065 miles.
The Kunming Initiative proposes to develop the road and the economies around the road through tourism, railways, water resources, biodiversity, and even through trade and investment.
If the proposals are accepted, Mizoram, which shares as much as 450 miles of border with Bangladesh and Myanmar, could be linked to Sittwe in Myanmar, and Agartala in Tripura to Chittagong in Bangladesh.
That will open up the entire northeastern region of India, making it the commercial outlet for eastern trade.
The benefits of this connection will be immediately visible in India's most underdeveloped corridor.
Ren Jia said like the north-east India, north-west China was far away from centre of economic activity like Beijing and Shanghai and "because of closed door policies adopted by China in the 1960s, had seen relatively low levels of development".
The problems in the linkage are obvious. The bureaucracy has continued to stonewall moves. "Indians prefer a step-by-step approach," Ren said diplomatically.
Apart from ambivalence to China for strategic reasons, India is concerned about linkages between states where a separatist movement is on, and other countries.
Indian Ambassador in Beijing, Nalin Surie had attended the last meeting held in China. This was a breakthrough in itself because track-II meetings are generally not attended by officials.
The common minimum programme (CMP) of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is bullish on subregional groupings and is expected to encourage moves by the Initiative. If it comes about, it will open a whole new world for trade and investment.

First Published: Mon, August 09 2004. 00:00 IST