New Delhi, Feb 18 (IANS) Enhancing connectivity between India and southeast Asia can be a game changer for India’s northeast, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Thursday.
“Enhancing connectivity is a strategic priority for both India and Asean,” Sushma Swaraj said in her keynote address at the ministerial session of the eighth edition of the Delhi Dialogue.
“For India’s northeastern region, it can be a game changer. India has been working with Asean to enhance physical connectivity via our northeast as well as our eastern seaboard,” she said.
The Delhi Dialogue is a premier annual track 1.5 diplomatic event to discuss the politico-security, economic and socio-cultural engagement between India and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Sushma Swaraj said the Kaladan Multi Modal Transport project, India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and Rih Tedim Project in Myanmar were in progress to enhance connectivity between India and Asean nations via the northeast.
While the Kaladan project has achieved a physical progress of close to 90 percent and is scheduled to be completed in the next few months, the tendering process for 69 bridges on the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway has been initiated, she said.
The implementation of the project will start soon with the Friendship Bridge connecting Moreh in India and Tamu in Myanmar, she said, adding that the process for Kalewa-Yargi road has also been speeded up.
“The Rih-Tedim Road project will provide all weather connectivity between eastern Mizoram and western Myanmar,” the external affairs minister said, adding that work on enhancing air connectivity between the northeast and the Asean region was also on.
“Besides these projects, at the 13th Asean-India Summit in November 2015, Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi announced a line of credit of $1 billion to promote projects that support physical and digital connectivity between India and Asean. We will look forward to receiving proposals from Asean member states for utilisation of this line of credit.”
Sushma Swaraj said that through its ‘Act East Policy’, India has been giving a renewed focus to its engagement with Asean and other countries in the east.
“It is not a coincidence that since Prime Minister Modi’s government came to power in May 2014, we have had visits by the president, vice president and prime minister of India to nine out of 10 Asean countries… The Philippines, as the next chair of Asean, will soon be on the list,” she said.
Describing India and Asean as two bright spots of optimism amidst ongoing global economic uncertainties, Sushma Swaraj said that the Asean Community has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for shared socio-economic growth.
“India would like to be part of this growth and in this sense, the development of an Asean-India Economic Community would be a logical evolution. We also encourage the Asean member states which are yet to ratify the Asean-India Agreements on Trade in Services and Investments to do so at the earliest,” she said.
“The Asean-India Trade Negotiating Committee has also been commissioned to undertake a review of the Asean-India Trade in Goods Agreement. Together these will facilitate a qualitative shift in our trade and investment relationship.”
According to the external affairs minister, a balanced and ambitious Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, if concluded this year, will further boost India’s economic and commercial engagement with Asean and the wider Asia-Pacific.
Stating that peace and stability were essential pre-requisites for progress and development, she stressed on the importance of ensuring maritime security, “which has emerged as an important area of concern in recent times”.
“The oceans and seas, including the South China Sea, are pathways to our prosperity and security. The security of sea routes in the Asia-Pacific is essential for India’s economy as a majority of our global trade flows across the straits of Malacca and beyond,” Sushma Swaraj said.
“Moreover, the development of a Blue Economy and optimum utilisation of marine resources can only take place within the ambit of internationally recognised rules and norms.”
Emphasising on the need to resolve disputes peacefully, without threat or actual use of force, the external affairs minister said: “In this regard, I would also like to stress that we support the evolution of an inclusive, balanced, transparent and open regional architecture for security and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific.”
Stating that the deep and abiding socio-cultural links between India and Asean date back two millennia, Sushma Swaraj hoped that people-to-people exchanges would engender research tie-up between the universities and think tanks of the two sides to produce a credible repository of knowledge for the benefit of posterity.
“To further enhance understanding at the popular level, exchange programme of students, journalists, farmers, scholars, diplomats, parliamentarians and others are progressing apace,” she said.