INDIA’S US$256 M HIGHWAY BET
Country seeks to challenge China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative in region
WHEN Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government approved US$256 million (RM1 billion) to upgrade a section of a remote border road last month, few took notice.
Yet India’s decision to revive plans for the trilateral highway, part of an ambitious 1,360km crossing to link northeastern India with markets in Thailand and beyond, marks the next phase in the jostle between New Delhi and Beijing for economic and strategic influence in the region.
In the last two years alone, India has assigned more than US$4.7 billion in contracts for the development of its border roads, according to government figures, including the highway which will run from Moreh in Manipur through Tamu in Myanmar to Mae-Sot in Thailand.
The construction has taken on new urgency as China pushes ahead with its own vast “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure initiative, expected to involve investments worth more than half a trillion dollars across 62 nations. The intercontinental web of road, rail and trade links has raised concerns among strategic rivals India, Russia, the United States and Japan.
Among the biggest showcases of the plan — an economic corridor that runs through the Pakistan-administered part of dis- puted Kashmir, which both India and Pakistan claim — has unsettled equations in the South Asian neighbourhood.
Under the Modi government’s “Act East” policy, India is investing in road and rail links on its north-east borders, where it rubs shoulders with Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, China, and Myanmar.
But the plan for the IndiaMyanmar-Thailand highway is not a new one. It’s been on the drawing board since 2001, when it was called the India-Myanmar Friendship Road, according to Vijay Chhibber, India’s former roads secretary.
New Delhi has now proposed to further extend the MyanmarThailand link to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, shortening travel from Mekong River to India using water transport, in its bid to bind it closer to Asean and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, according to Chhibber.
The road link will be funded by the Asian Development Bank under the South Asian Subregional Economic Cooperation programme.
New projects include the Kaladan multimodal transit transport project connecting India’s Mizoram state with ports in Kolkata and Myanmar’s Sittwe. India has financed the $120 million Sittwe port construction, according to SASEC.
India chose not to attend President Xi Jinping’s two-day One Belt One Road summit in May. Three months later, the two nuclear-armed powers are managing a tense military standoff over the junction between Bhutan, China’s Tibet and India’s Sikkim. Bloomberg
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has approved plans for a road linking India with Thailand and beyond in a direct challenge to China.