As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sets off for a number of strategic multilateral visits this month, including the East Asia Summit from 12-14 November and the SAARC Summit from November 26-27, the Indian leader’s connection with other parts of Asia is seen as key for India, according to the think-tank.
Several countries such as China, Japan, Indonesia and to a lesser extent Myanmar are viewed as growth centers. India too must be a part of the build-out of these grand linkages, as political borders blur and give way to the reintegration of Asia.
Gateway House, based in Mumbai, has conducted a study of India’s strategic links – road, rail, maritime, energy, finance and trade – with other parts of Asia under the title, “Asia’s Strategic Corridors.”
The study recognizes that India’s “Look East” policy, launched in the 1990s, has only been partially successful. Physical connectivity with Southeast Asia through Myanmar has been tough due to the hilly terrain and volatile security situation in our north-eastern region. On the other hand, maritime and virtual corridors that carry trade and investment have flourished. The potential is huge: research done by Gateway House shows that up to 50 percent of India’s imports from China can be sourced instead from ASEAN countries, putting to good use the India-ASEAN free trade agreement.
“Looking Further East” seeks capital fromJapan in helping India finance critical domestic infrastructure projects. South Korean chemical and electronics, and Chinese information technology companies, have made similar investments.
Eyeing the corridor to the north, “Connect Central Asia” appears to losing ground to China.The 1947 partition of India denies the country direct access to the region and its energy resources, as Pakistan walked away with that land link. One way for India to re-create the old northern silk routes into Central Asia is to team up with Russia, according to the think-tank.
“Look West,” launched in 2005, seeks to use India’s corridors to West Asia and appears to be successful. India has maintained strong, diverse links with Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to secure its energy needs, to sustain trade and cultural exchanges, and to protect the 6 million Indian expatriates there. So far, India’s neutrality towards the warring factions in the region and non-interference in the Arab uprisings has served it well.
“India’s Neighbourhood” refers to integration with the country’s immediate neighbours that has tended to be stymied by politics. The vulnerability is most apparent in the region that connects India’s north-eastern states with the rest of India, and borders Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. A transit, trade and energy corridor through Bangladesh and access to Southeast Asia through Myanmar remains an unrealized two-decade-old aspiration.
Not to be forgotten is India’s other corridor, “Focus Africa.” This policy, launched in 2002, has helped set the stage for East African countries to become a key destination for investments and professionals from India’s software, telecom, and financial sectors.
Physical communication corridors are a crucial part of the overall plan. If the grand corridor can be completed, India can once again become the hub of economic activity as it once was when the Grand Turk Road connected Chittagong to Kabul, the Silk Route connected Turkey to India, and the Spice Route connected Southeast Asia to East Africa, according to the report.