IN­DIA’S US$256 M HIGH­WAY BET

Coun­try seeks to chal­lenge China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ ini­tia­tive in re­gion

New Straits Times - - Business -

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

BLOOMBERG PIC

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s gov­ern­ment has ap­proved plans for a road link­ing In­dia with Thailand and be­yond in a di­rect chal­lenge to China.

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