New Delhi’s strategy of prioritising BIMSTEC over SAARC, if only to isolate Pakistan and its China connection, has not deterred Beijing from stepping up its overtures to India’s other neighbours. So much so, that China’s shadow looms large over SAARC and the region.
Last week, the Chinese leadership had meetings with both the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali. Both Hasina and Gyawali pledged to raise bilateral relations to new heights and advance their cooperation with China on its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
After his meeting with Gyawali, China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China stands ready to work with Nepal and take the BRI cooperation as an opportunity to explore building a Trans-Himalayan Multidimensional Connectivity Network.
In his effusive response, Gyawali said that Nepal sees in China a most important partner for sustainable development; and, it would like to further deepen the comprehensive cooperative partnership with China, enhance high-level exchange and step up BRI cooperation.
A day after that came Premier Li Keqiang’s meeting with Hasina, who also met President Xi Jinping. Both sides were emphatic in reiterating their commitment to advance cooperation on BRI. Of course, in the case of Bangladesh, BRI cooperation will be under the umbrella of the Bangladesh China India and Myanmar (BCIM) forum. Li said that the two countries should work together and build the BCIM Economic Corridor.
In effect, India would have to contend with two China-driven economic corridors: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in the north-west and BCIM-EC in the north-east and east. The BCIM risks being subsumed within BRI as BCIM-EC. In effect, New Delhi has to contend with not only China’s all-weather friend in SAARC. It has to also reckon with China as the more powerful magnet in SAARC and BCIM, and members of these two groupings in BIMSTEC being locked into BRI by China. The BCIM-EC will be a big-ticket project of China's next only to CPEC.
(Disclaimer: WION Edit is the channel's take on the big events of the world)