India is ramping up infrastructure spending to expedite development of highways connecting country’s North East with Mynamar and Thailand as it gears up to compete with the Dragon for access to these markets.
China’s push to the ‘One Belt, One Road’ project has given a new urgency to the Indian plan, say analysts.
India’s recent decision to revive the trilateral highway, part of an ambitious 1,360-kilometer intersection to link the North East with markets in Thailand and beyond is part of its strategy to seek better regional economic integration, say experts.
India is already working on better energy integration with Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Myanmar
The plan for India-Myanmar-Thailand highway has been on the drawing board since 2001 when it was called the India-Myanmar Friendship Road.
But New Delhi has now proposed to extend the Myanmar-Thailand link to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, with a view to shortening travel from Mekong River to India using water transport as it looks to expands the sphere of economic integration.
The road link will be funded by the Asian Development Bank under the South Asian Subregional Economic Cooperation programme. Involving India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka, the programme has doubled investments on infrastructure to $6 billion since 2011 compared to $3.5 billion in previous decade.
India chose not to attend President Xi Jinping’s two-day One Belt One Road summit in May. Three months later, the the two nuclear-armed powers are managing a tense military standoff over junction between Bhutan, China’s Tibet and India’s Sikkim.
The Chinese government has repeatedly said its Belt and Road initiative is meant to enhance regional connectivity, bring economic benefits for China’s neighbours. It has urged India to shed “misgivings and doubts” about the project.
Roads, bridges and railways have been a weak link in India’s infrastructure in the North Eastern states. In part, it was left underdeveloped as strategy to make the region inaccessible to Chinese troops if Beijing ever tried to repeat the four-week 1962 border war and encroach into the territory India sees as its own.
This has hobbled access for Indian businesses to markets of South East Asia.
The Narendra Modi government has fast-tracked decades-old infrastructure plans such as opening the nation’s longest bridge spanning 9.2 km across the Brahmaputra river to ensure the smooth movement of troops to the North Eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.
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