Gauhati: India has deployed hundreds of workers and engineers to rebuild the last portion of a highway to neighbouring China that was abandoned six decades ago, authorities said on 6 May.
The Stilwell Road linking India and China, which also traverses stretches of Myanmar, was closed after India gained independence from British rule in 1947. Frosty relations with China in the following decades impeded the reopening of the route.
In recent years, relations between the two countries have rapidly warmed, with both sides looking to boost economic and political exchanges.
A mountain road through the Nathu La pass in the Himalayan state of Sikkim, linking India with the Tibet Autonomous Region, was reopened last year, but the Stilwell Road is seen as financially more viable for traders in India and China.
“Widening of the road on the Indian side has picked up speed and provisions are being made to make it a four-lane highway,” said Pradyut Bordoloi, commerce and industry minister in the northeastern state of Assam.
The 1,736-kilometer (1,078-mile) -long Stilwell Road begins in Ledo, a small town in Assam, and rolls westward through Myitkyina in Myanmar to Kunming in China’s Yunnan Province.
The road was built during World War II to transport supplies to the beleaguered Chinese army after the Yunnan-Myanmar Road, a critical lifeline in China’s war of resistance against Japan, was cut off by Japanese troops in 1942.
The Indian portion of the Stilwell Road is just 61 kilometers (38 miles) long, while the Chinese stretch measures about 632 kilometers (393 miles). More than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) lie in Myanmar, which is getting financial help from Beijing to rebuild that stretch. Beijing has already completed work on its portion.
Reconstruction of the Stilwell Road has generated much excitement in eastern Assam, where people expect to benefit from trade along the route.
Goods from India will take just two days to reach China on the road. Currently, sea cargo between India and China must pass south of Singapore and through the Malacca Strait.
“Also, the reopening of this road would bridge the artificial barrier that had kept ethnically similar people away from each other for so long,” Bordoloi said.
The area around Ledo, where the road starts, is inhabited among others by the Singphos, an ethnic group known across the border in Myanmar as the Kachins.