NEW DELHI :
India’s Act East policy is set to get fresh impetus, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi articulating the government's plans to transform India's northeast region into a gateway to southeast Asia.
The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway will play a key role in this and help improve connectivity between India and Thailand and others in the neighbourhood. India also has plans for a global electricity grid that may initially aim to link countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam with the Indian sub-continent, as part of an evolving energy security architecture.
The importance of the region was presciently captured by Myint Thant, author of Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia. In an interview to Mint in 2013, Thant said, “Myanmar will be a gateway to other parts of Asia from the east of India...In future, if Myanmar has to be a gateway for anywhere, an imaginative focus on northeast India is going to be critical."
This comes in the backdrop of China’s attempts to co-opt countries into its ambitious One Belt One Road initiative, a programme to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, including railways, ports and power grids across Asia, Africa and Europe.
While attending the 16th ASEAN-India Summit in Bangkok, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said India’s Act East Policy is a significant cornerstone of the Indo-Pacific strategy, adding that ASEAN is at the core of Act East Policy.
To counter Beijing, the US is seeking a bigger role for India in stabilising and maintaining the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific region–a large swathe of land and sea stretching all the way from the west coast of the US to the shores of east Africa.
“A strong ASEAN will immensely benefit India. Prime Minister highlighted steps being taken to improve surface, maritime, air and digital connectivity. One billion dollar Indian line of credit will prove beneficial for improving physical and digital connectivity," the Indian government said in a statement.
India has been instrumental in implementing the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, which will run from Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar. The plan also involves extending it to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and the project forms an important part of India articulating its role in the proposed transportation architecture in the region and beyond.
Japan has also joined hands with India to aggressively develop infrastructure projects in the region with the setting up of the India-Japan Coordination Forum for Development of northeast.
With an eye on China, India is working on a slew of road and bridge projects to improve connectivity with Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar. These include road networks connecting Aizawl in Mizoram with Kaladan in Myanmar and Imphal in Manipur with Tamu, also in Myanmar. India is also expediting the South Asian Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) road connectivity programme.