India–Myanmar–Thailand Trilateral Highway project
21st Jul, 2023
Recently, India's External Affairs Minister met his Myanmar counterpart for discussions on initiatives that can be taken in order to enhance the connectivity between the two countries.
- Their discussions centred on the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway, further underlining the importance of ensuring peace and stability in the border areas.
India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway:
- Background: It was first proposed by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and was approved at a ministerial-level meeting between India, Myanmar and Thailand in April 2002.
- Road link: The India-Myanmar-Thailand highway is to connect Moreh in Manipur and Mae Sot in Thailand via
- Distance: The highway will span a distance of approximately 1,360 kilometers (845 miles).
- Its construction began in 2012 and is being implemented in several phases.
- First Segment: The India-Myanmar Friendship Road forms the first segment of the IMT Highway. It runs from the border at Tamu/Moreh to Kalemyo and Kalewa.
- Implementing agencies: On the Indian side, the project is being implemented by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) with the cooperation of its counterparts in Myanmar and Thailand and budgetary allocation from the Ministry of Finance.
Why this project is important for India?
- India’s Act East Policy: The project is an important part of India’s Act East Policy, which focuses on improving India’s relations with the Southeast Asian nations.
- It is a diplomatic initiative to promote economic, strategic and cultural relations with the vast Asia-Pacific region at different levels.
- Aim: To promote economic cooperation, cultural ties and developing a strategic relationship with countries in Indo-pacific region with a proactive and pragmatic approach and thereby improving the economic development of the North Eastern Region (NER) which is a gateway to the South East Asia Region.
Difference Between Look East and Act East:
- Look East policy focused on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries + Economic Integration.
- India became a dialogue partner of ASEAN in 1996 and summit level partner in 2002.
- In 2012 the relationship got up-graded into a Strategic Partnership.
- The time when India launched the Look East Policy in 1992, India's trade with ASEAN was USD 2 billion. After signing the Free Trade Agreement in 2010 with ASEAN, the trade has grown to USD 72 billion (2017-18).
- India is also an active participant in several regional forums like the East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) etc.
- Act East Policy focused on ASEAN countries + Economic Integration + East Asian countries + Security cooperation.
- Prime minister of India highlighted 4C's of Act East Policy.
- Capacity building
- Security is an important dimension of India's Act East Policy.
- In the context of growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, securing freedom of navigation and India's own role in the Indian Ocean is a key feature of Act East Policy.
- In pursuance of this, India has been engaged under the narrative of Indo-pacific and informal grouping called Quad.
Initiatives to Enhance Connectivity:
- Agartala-Akhaura Rail Link between India and Bangladesh.
- Intermodal transport linkages and inland waterways through Bangladesh.
- Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project and the Trilateral Highway Project connecting the North East with Myanmar and Thailand.
- Under India-Japan Act East Forum, projects such as Road and Bridges and modernization of Hydro-electric power projects have been undertaken.
- India-Japan Act East Forum was established in 2017 which aims to provide a platform for India-Japan collaboration under the rubric of India’s "Act East Policy” and Japan’s "Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”.
- The Forum will identify specific projects for economic modernization of India’s North-East region including those pertaining to connectivity, developmental infrastructure, industrial linkages as well as people-to-people contacts through tourism, culture and sports-related activities.
India’s Northeast region, although a critical connecting link between South and Southeast Asia, is clearly beleaguered with security issues, economic stagnation, and poor infrastructure. While India’s Look East Policy has made tremendous progress, it has bypassed the Northeast region. The Act East policy was meant to perhaps redeem that. Plans and proposals are in place and the possibilities of building a cobweb of connectivity networks through India and its Northeast region is high. But given India’s implementation track record, how soon it can be the real bridge between South and Southeast Asia is still an open ended issue.