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Mekong-India Connectivity

Connectivity

The Mekong Sub-Region usually referred to by India as the CLMV (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam) countries, forms an integral part of South-East Asia and connects the Bay Of Bengal to the South China Sea by land. For India, this region plays an important part in the foreign policy because the subcontinent shares its land boundary with one of the CLMV countries, i.e Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal. India’s strategic partner,Vietnam,which is also located in the Mekong Region, has maritime territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. This makes India look forward to friendly relationship with the country. With the growing economic strength of China, poor and small nations in the Mekong Sub-Region are slowly being drawn towards the emerging trading giant. Beijing diplomatically has started taking advantage of the location of the CLMV countries to reach the Indian Ocean. The growing influence of China in the region has led India to strengthen its relation with these countries.For this purpose, several connectivity measures have been taken by New Delhi to boost India-South East Asia integration.

An important connectivity project is the Mekong-India Economic Corridor which involves the integration of four Mekong Countries – Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia,Vietnam, with India. The Mekong India Economic Corridor (MIEC) is a multimodal economic corridor linking the Mekong Countries. It was proposed with the motive to connect Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) with Dawei (Myanmar) through Bangkok (Thailand) and Phnom Penh (Cambodia),linking it to Chennai (India). The corridor will increase trade between the CLMV countries and the rest of the world, especially India. It will also reduce the travel distance between India and the Mekong Region, thus removing supply-side bottlenecks. However,there are certain challenges which needs to be tackled for the MIEC to be successfully implemented,such as the lack of a deep sea port in Myanmar or a highway between Dawei and the Thai border.The West link of the MIEC is one of the important routes for linking India with South East Asia. The corridor would create a sea route between Bangkok and Chennai via Dawei .The corridor will enable these economies to integrate and emerge as a globally competitive economic bloc.The MIEC will have a greater impact on lower income countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia,thereby narrowing the gaps of regional development.

The alternative location between India and Mekong can be through the Southern Seaboard in South Thailand on Andaman Sea and shares borders with Malaysia. The Government of Thailand is developing a Southern Seaboard Development Project (SSBD) in the region on the similar lines of Eastern Seaboard project. With regard to integration between India and Myanmar,”Dawei Development Project” has been initiated in the recent years.In order to cater to the need of deep sea ports in Myanmar,three sites have been marked by the Myanmar Port Authority – Kyaukpyu in Rakhine State,Kalegauk in Mon State,Dawei and Bokpin in Tanintharyi Region. An integral project to enhance the ASEAN-India connectivity is the development of a special economic zone (SEZ) and deep sea port at Dawei (Myanmar).The strategic location of the city on the south-east coast of Myanmar provides immense opportunity for opening new shipping routes to India,Middle East and Europe,as well as in reducing congestion in the Malacca Strait.

The Dawei Project is one of the most promising projects in terms of trade potential. It has the probability to become a logistical hub that can enhance connectivity of India’s Chennai,Kolkata,and Vishakhapatnam ports with South East Asia,thereby increasing the commercial output.However,implementation of this project acts an hindrance in the path of the smooth completion.Bangkok based,Italian-Thai Development (ITD) carried out a feasibility study in 1996 to develop a deep sea port and special economic zone in Dawei, Southern Myanmar. Thailand and Myanmar signed the bilateral agreement for the project on 19 May,2008 in Singapore.Under this agreement,ITD gained the right to build the deep sea port and special economic zone for 75 years.ITD set up Dawei Development Corporation (DDC) for the purpose of implementation of the project. The development of Dawei will play a key role in the completion of the MIEC by linking Bangkok and Chennai via the Andaman Sea. This will open opportunities for business and trade between India and the ASEAN countries.

The Dawei mega project had always been surrounded by an air of apprehension pertaining to the size of the project, amount of money required for the infrastructural development and involvement of multiple partners in the endeavor.There are several bottlenecks in the path of its functioning. The major problem is the unfavorable climate for investment. However with the establishment of pro-democratic reforms by the new government in Myanmar, this situation has relaxed to a great extent.
Thus,these attempts to bring South-East Asia and India,geographically closer,is an unique endeavor to strengthen the bond between the neighbouring countries.Such initiatives,not only allow development of the respective regions but also provide immense scope for strengthening regionalism in the global arena.

– Contributed by Rajeshwari

Picture Credits: ADB & vietnamplus.in



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