During President's Xi Jinping's just-concluded visit to Dhaka, Bangladesh and China signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) confirming Bangladesh's engagement in One Belt, One Road. This is a Chinese framework arrangement for organising multinational economic development primarily in Eurasia through two main components - the land-based Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road. It was unveiled by the Chinese leader Xi in 2013.
Both the countries also agreed to expedite the process for establishing the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) Economic Corridor and raise communication and coordination on international and regional issues concerning shared interests during President's Xi's visit.
With this, expectations are galore that the implementation of the Silk Road and the Economic Corridor would usher in new era of opportunities for this sub-region. It could also impact immensely on Bangladesh's overall socioeconomic condition.
Alongside such corridor initiative, there was also an agreement to establish a maritime 'Silk Road' across the Bay of Bengal to link with countries in the rims of the bay and the Indian Ocean. The maritime Silk Road has immense potential in promoting regional connectivity stretching up to outer world.
In fact, the initiatives being taken under the ambit of BCIM cooperation forum hold huge potential for expanding trade and investment among the four Asian countries. Two of them are fast-growing economies--India and China--and another two are developing ones--Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Cooperation in power and energy, transport infrastructure, shipping, tourism, trade, business and investment, in particular, will certainly gain momentum in the event of building the planned economic corridor. However, there is a need for more research and study on how to derive greater benefits from the initiative by making best use of their comparative advantages.
Analysts believe the economic dynamism of India and China could also offer a wide range of opportunities for growth and development in the region. They say joining the connectivity initiative will make Dhaka a regional hub of connectivity of all communications. Through this initiative, Bangladesh will turn into a hub of connectivity between South and Southeast Asia.
However, there are hindrances too. Inadequate market access, non-tariff barriers, insufficient physical connectivity and lack of favourable banking and financial mechanisms might pose challenges at sector level. To get benefit from the initiatives, analysts suggest pursuing a new paradigm of foreign policy focusing more on balanced development diplomacy.
The Chinese president, during his visit, said China-Bangladesh relationship is now at 'a new historical turning point' and heading toward a promising future. China is ready to work with Bangladesh to move along the path of development as friend and partner to trust and support each other.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said her government's efforts today are aimed at attaining goals of becoming a knowledge-based middle-income country by 2021 and eventually a developed country by 2041.
Experts say the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor are officially classified as closely related to the Belt and Road initiative. Both the countries are willing to strengthen economic ties, promote infrastructure construction and industrialisation process together and they acknowledged the importance of building a platform for cooperation projects.
Bangladesh wants to be the hub for connectivity between South and Southeast Asia, and the corridor fits exactly into that. Bangladesh also stands to gain because it will allow the country to expand economic ties with India, China and Myanmar.
Analysts say it will require big investments to establish the corridor. Construction of roads might be "technically feasible", but it will take time to get funding. Besides, coordination among the four governments could be time-consuming. But in the meantime, the planned corridor, pockets of economic activity and industrial park can be developed. When the corridor comes into being, the country will have a very flourishing economy.
The K2K (Kunming-Ruili-Bhamo-Lashio-Mandalay-Tamu-Imphal-Sylhet-Dhaka-Kolkata) Road, which is 2,800-km long and part of the historic Silk Road, offers the best condition to be used as the corridor, according to a concept paper on the BCIM-EC.
With roads, railways, airlines, water Roads, telecommunication networks and energy pipelines, the corridor will connect South-western China, Eastern and North-Eastern India, Myanmar and Bangladesh to form a thriving economic belt.
The country can benefit immensely from regional cooperation on energy, as it can purchase unused power from Sikkim in India that plans to exploit its hydrocarbon resources. Bangladesh can also increase trade with Myanmar, as the two countries share a border of 160 miles. It can also gain similar benefits from China and India.
Bangladesh is a member of the China-sponsored Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The bank has already approved a $165-million loan for for a Power Distribution System Upgrade and Expansion Project. China has been eyeing to create maritime access for its fast emerging provinces and Chittagong port could be an option.
The south-east Asian economic bloc is a "high priority" for Bangladesh to emerge as a middle-income country by 2021. Bangladesh's aspiration to emerge as a middle income country was set out and BCIM sub-regional economic cooperation was an important arrangement to achieving that end.
The economic corridor once built should attract extensive trade and investments. Bangladesh would benefit from its location right in the middle of the region. Since the BCIM region is considered to be one of the richest in the world in terms of natural, mineral and other resources, there would be enough scope to build manufacturing plants to use these resources.
It is too early to say when the economic corridor will become a reality. But given its economic prospects there is urgency in all the countries to see its completion. The big factor is where the financing to build this difficult road will come from. Since China is a country which has the experience to build such mega-projects and to develop mechanisms to pay back investment, mobilising of a huge fund may not be impossible. For Bangladesh, a completely new dimension to our economic growth would open up. The BCIM countries could be another conduit to future prosperity for all.
The country needs a clear policy to be able to seize the opportunities that come its way. It needs to strengthen trade ties with the East Asian countries.