It is destination ASEAN for India this new year even as the government is all set to woo the 10 member countries with mega connectivity plans while paving the way for a grand roadmap on maritime security and cooperation.
While all the heads of state of the ASEAN member countries will witness a grand display of India’s might in weaponry and armaments during the Republic Day celebrations, they will be given a detailed and elaborate presentation on India’s connectivity and maritime security plans by Prime Minister Narendra Modi a day before during the India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit, sources told.
The idea is to “catch up” with China’s speed and magnitude in terms of enhanced connectivity through roads and ports to make the country’s presence felt as Beijing makes inroads with its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI), sources added.
In fact, with an escalating aggressive posture that is being taken by China at the South China Sea as it continues to reclaim islands and convert those into military bases, ASEAN is increasingly seeking a greater security role to be played by India by way of large-scale connectivity.
The blueprint of ASEAN-India connectivity was prepared in 2010 when India gave a push to its ‘Look East’ policy under the previous government. It was then continued by the present BJP government under the refurbished ‘Act East’ policy.
During the summit, PM Modi will give a detailed update on some of the construction activities that have been underway for a long time. One such project is the India-Thailand trilateral highway that begins from Moreh in Manipur and ending in Bangkok by cutting through Myanmar. This is expected to be completed by 2020.
The highway is expected to be extended to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam at a later stage.
“The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, and its extension to Laos and Cambodia, should also be extended to reach Vietnam, realising the East-West link under the Dawei project, which played a central role in the context of transport connectivity.
Air and maritime connectivity could be enhanced by the greater liberalisation of the ASEAN-India air services agreement and ASEAN-India cooperation in maritime transport,” said Prabir De, Professor, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), and Coordinator, ASEAN-India Centre (AIC), India.
Yet another project, the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Corridor connecting Myanmar’s Sittwe Port with Kolkata port, is almost nearing completion.
This will also have road connectivity from Zorinpuri in Mizoram till the Sittwe port via Paletwa in Myanmar. A Special Economic Zone is also expected to come up there.
Additionally, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM), which connects Kolkata, Dhaka, Silchar, Imphal, Mandalay, Boashan and Kunming and covering a total length of 2,800 km, is also part of the mega connectivity plan.
But these plans are small when compared to the $180-billion BRI project of China. Under the BRI, Beijing has made a multi-pronged strategy to have both surface as well as maritime connectivity.
China is building high-speed connectivity rail links in Malaysia, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Indonesia, apart from metro connectivity and other projects in Vietnam.