China launches new forum to extend reach to South Asia

china-flag-reuters China has about 35,000 Islamic mosques, according to an official white paper published last month

The picturesque town of Kunming in China's Yunan province is playing host to the annual China-South Asia exposition, an effort by the Chinese government to link China with south Asian countries through engaging trade ties. The inauguration of the exposition was a spectacular ceremony held on Thursday morning at the state of the art expo centre. China chose the event to also launch the China-South Asia Cooperation Forum.

Gao Shu Xun, deputy governor of Yunan and head of the exposition, said that the focus for the cooperation forum will be to share experiences in poverty reduction experiments, financial cooperation, dialogues between regional governments of the various countries and cooperation on development.

The event comes soon after the heads of state meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) that was held in Qingdao some days ago. While the SCO is a multilateral forum through which China makes its outreach to Central Asia, the China South Asia Cooperation forum looks towards the south of Asia. There are countries like India and Pakistan, which are part of both clubs. The forum, of course, has just taken birth and its agenda, focus and success are still only potentials.

Kumning is an ideal place to kickstart such an endeavour. The beautiful lakeside town is in southern China, and apart from very good weather (good rains, warm sunshine) it is also ideally located geographically to be China's gateway to the countries to its south.

Not only is it a key centre for the dragon's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, it is also China's nodal city for the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar highway project. The secretariat for the BCIM in China is in Kunming, said Ma Jun, deputy director general, foreign affairs office of Yunan province. “We have invested heavily in building the roads that lead from Kunming to the border areas,” he said. BCIM, however, hasn't made much headway yet, with the countries still having to sit together to discuss their individual plans and chalk out a joint one.

India may not be on the same page as China with regards to connectivity, because of its reservations with the BRI project, but in terms of trade, the relationship is rather healthy. This is obvious at the expo, where India has always been the largest contingent. This year, with 258 booths, India's presence is phenomenal. Thailand, Vietnam and Nepal are the only other countries with over 200 booths.