Connectivity with South, Southeast Asia

India is considering a series of projects aimed at strengthening links with South Asia and between the region and Southeast Asia. This comes at a time when South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is losing steam amid Pakistan's intransigence over connectivity pacts and China is seeking to increase its influence in the region.

The proposals under consideration include mega cross-border air and land connectivity projects, along with power and energy initiatives. Some of these projects were part of the agenda when external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj met her Bangladeshi counterpart Mahmud Ali in Dhaka on Sunday.

These included proposals for Dhaka-Chennai-Colombo air connectivity, Chittagong-Kolkata-Colombo shipping connectivity , Bangladesh-North Bengal rail link, Bangladesh-Bhutan internet cables through India, trade route connecting Nakugaon Land Port in Bangladesh to Gayleyphung in Bhutan via India. Besides, efforts are on implement the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) motor vehicles agreement soon, while keeping a provision for Bhutan to join later. Bhutan had requested to join later since its upper house of parliament failed to ratify the pact.

Regional connectivity heads the agenda for the Narendra Modi government because China is expanding its footprint in South Asia and Southeast Asia through its One Belt One Road initiative.

The BBIN MVA will complement the proposed BIMSTEC MVA, which is expected to be the key outcome of the seven-nation summit to be held in Nepal early next year to celebrate 20 years of creation of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation. The BIMSTEC MVA will have all multimodal features connecting Sri Lanka, which has so far been connected to the six members of the grouping only through air or sea. The two agreements are a critical part of India's Act East policy, which is aimed at enabling strengthening of ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN in the periphery of China.

BIMSTEC is also mulling connectivity through cruise liners to promote tourism and coastal shipping between the member states.This will facilitate India's Bay of Bengal outreach, complementing its Indian Ocean Region strategy .

No comments: