The North East is key for India’s ties with Asean

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India was hosted to all 10 leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) this January, to celebrate 25 years of a growing relationship through a commemorative summit with the grouping.

India and ASEAN:

  1. Ever since India transformed its “Look East” policy to “Act East”, there have been continuous efforts to make this relationship result oriented and practical
  2. In the absence of political differences, trade and investments should be the main drivers of the relationship, but India and Asean are struggling to push bilateral trade to the agreed target of $100 billion
  3. This could be helped by improving connectivity(through land, sea and air) which will cut down costs of movement of goods and services

Tri-lateral highway & North East:

  • Among the connectivity projects already envisaged is a four-lane trilateral highway linking India (Moreh in Manipur) with Mae Sot (Thailand) via Myanmar which will be expanded to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. This highway can only be sustained through movement of goods and economic activity along the route through Myanmar and, hence, the growing importance of our North-East.

How it could be done?

  • It is essential to focus on development and connectivity in India’s North-East itself, with new road and rail links, opening up multi modal transport, including river navigation, and setting up industrial corridors and economic activities like haats or local markets, with emphasis on agriculture, horticulture, handlooms, handicrafts and processed food.
  • This will allow India to export its produce through this link rather than become a net importer of cheap Chinese goods.

Sea connectivity

  • Sea connectivity from India to Asean will be helped by the Kaladan multi-modal transport project
  • It will link Kolkata to Sittwe port in Myanmar, as also Mizoram by the river and land route

The North-East:

  • The North-East, home to 3.8% of the national population, occupies about 8% of India’s total geographical area, and is strategically important with over 5,300 km of international borders.
  • A narrow chicken’s neck corridor connects it with the rest of India, and infrastructure connectivity with the mainland as well as the bordering countries needs upgradation, for which large investments are needed.

Recent Developments for NE:

  • Some recent decisions to enhance connectivity of the North-East include a 4,000-km long ring road connecting the states; expediting railway projects connecting all state capitals by 2020, and extending to 15 new destinations;
  • border last-mile rail connectivity with Myanmar and restoring rail connectivity with Bangladesh.
  • Twenty port townships are to be developed along the Brahmaputra and Barak river systems to enhance intra-regional connectivity.
  • Govt. has also proposed the augmentation of air connectivity to and from the region, which will help business ties with the Asean.
  • At least 50 economic integration and development nodes are be developed across the region, in tandem with transport corridors to boost manufacturing.
  • Connectivity is also being upgraded in the border areas for strategic purposes, with highways and development plans approved for Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur, including a four-lane highway between Dimapur and Kohima.
  • This will also aid in improving law and order in the region and boost the underutilized tourism potential. 

Japan as a major partner

  • Japan has emerged as a major partner in our efforts for the development of the North-East and connectivity to Asean
  • The “Japan India Act East Forum” has been set up
  • It will seek synergies between India’s Act East policy and Japan’s Partnership for Quality Infrastructure located in the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and link with Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”

The way forward

  • Transformational policies and supportive governments in these states could enable the government at the centre to roll out development schemes and infrastructure projects quickly.
  • It might help to develop a collective focus on inter-state boundary disputes and other ethnic conflicts within the North-East states, and also a common approach towards enhancing connectivity and trade facilitation with Asean.