Kolkata to Kunming (K2K) Forum is the only Track II that provides a platform for India and China to engage at the sub-regional level. Starting in 2002, the K2K Forum is now in the 14th year of its existence. It began as a civilian initiative by some researchers and members of civil society groups from Yunnan province of China and from Kolkata who met on the sidelines of an academic conference at Kunming in 2002. Centre for Studies in International Relations and Development (CSIRD) in Kolkata acts as the secretariat from the Indian side and Yunnan Development Research Centre (YDRC) acts as the nodal point from the Chinese side.
The primary objective of the initiative has been to facilitate mutual interaction and contribute towards greater understanding between these closer sub-regions – Eastern India and South West China. Remaining sensitive to the developing but fragile interstate relationship between India and China, the initiative concentrates on non-strategic and mutually beneficial benign areas such as economic and cultural interactions. Within the domain of economic interaction, the initiative is facilitating cooperation between Chambers of Commerce from both sides and Departments of Tourism. In both these sectors, there exist high-level interactions between the two sides. Almost on a regular basis there are exchange of business delegations between West Bengal and Yunnan furthering mutual economic interests. MoUs between Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and Yunnan Provincial Chamber of Commerce (YPCC), Calcutta Chamber of Commerce and YPCC were concluded at the 9th meeting of the K2K Forum in Kolkata.
The tourism departments of West Bengal and Yunnan are promoting mutual tourism and are in the process of developing joint tourism packages for the western tourists. The West Bengal Tourism Department has been an active participant in most of the K2K Forum meetings and used this Forum to showcase the tourism potential and infrastructure of West Bengal for the Chinese audience. Private players have particularly been very active in using the Forum to interact with counterparts and the level of mutual trade in tea now amounts to millions of USDs. Besides economic engagement, the K2K Forum has been instrumental in promoting cultural interaction between India and China through cultural exchanges and academic collaborations. The Forum has actively facilitated MoUs and regular exchanges between all the major Universities of West Bengal with Universities of China (Yunnan).
Since 2013, the Forum has been focusing on building sustained economic relationship between Eastern and North-eastern India and Southwest China and thus has expanded the scope of the K2K Forum to include states from the East and Northeast. Apart from West Bengal, states like Assam, Bihar and Tripura have attended the Forum and wish to use the K2K platform to deepen sectoral engagement with China. Other states such as Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim, Odisha and Jharkhand have shown interest to experience the Forum and explore opportunities of sectoral engagement with Chinese Economy through its gateway of Yunnan.
It is also timely that Government of India has launched its most important economic policy of “Make in India.”Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, launched the program, “Make in India” on 25th September 2014. The Make in India program is an invitation to investors around the world to invest in India. This program also encourages the domestic companies to invest in India. The initiative aims at increasing the share of the manufacturing sector in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The focus of Make in India program is on creation of jobs and skill enhancement in 25 sectors. These include: automobiles, aviation, chemicals, IT & BPM, pharmaceuticals, construction, defence manufacturing, electrical machinery, food processing, textiles and garments, ports, leather, media and entertainment, wellness, mining, tourism and hospitality, railways, automobile components, renewable energy, mining, bio-technology, space, thermal power, roads and highways and electronics systems. The main intention of the program is to boost the job market in the country and in turn increase employment opportunities for the youth.The K2K Forum fits well with the “Make in India” initiative of Government of India and it works on a graduated approach.
In economic terms, the K2K Forum facilitates sectoral interaction between stakeholders from both sides. Our own research has shown that there are a good number of sectors in eastern and northeastern India that enjoy comparative advantage over China and have potential of export to the hungry Chinese market. Sectors such as Agro-food items, horticulture, non-timber forest produce, medicinal herbs, tourism, healthcare and information technology are some of the sectors in which eastern and northeastern provinces have immense potential. One can see the win-win situation wherein China becomes the market for Indian products and Chinese capital and technology generate employment in eastern and northeastern India and also stimulates economic growth with Chinese capital and technology. Contrary to the general perception held in India that opening up to the Chinese economy would allow Chinese goods to flood the Indian markets, one can see that regulated sectoral engagement would allow entry of Indian goods into the Chinese market. The K2K Forum that has facilitated economic engagement between the two regions till date wishes to market the “Make in India” policy in Southwestern China, the designated gateway of China to South Asia and South East Asia.