Bangladesh has sought India’s support in joining the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway project to enhance connectivity with South East Asia. The project is part of the Modi government’s Act East policy, aimed at boosting India’s ties with the Asia Pacific and countering Chinese influence in the region.
According to a statement of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, “Bangladesh Prime Minister expressed keen interest in the ongoing India Myanmar Thailand trilateral highway project, and sought the support of India for enabling Bangladesh to connect with this project with a view to enhancing connectivity between the regions of South and South-East Asia”.
The highway project aims to build connectivity with the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries to boost trade and commerce in the region. The project has been further extended to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
Conceptualized in 2002, the construction of the 1,360km road is moving at a slow pace. It is already beyond its completion deadline of 2016, despite the Modi government’s keen interest in the project.
In September, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had said that India “is making an all-out effort” to complete the ambitious trilateral highways project connecting northeast India to South East Asia through land-route.
An Asian Development Bank Institute‘s working paper published in 2014 noted that the development of the highway has been slow “due to human resources, technology, advisory service, and funding constraints”.
Boost to India’s Act East policy
The ambitious highway initiative is seen as India’s strategy to counter China’s Border and Road Initiative. Developing regional relations by connecting 10 ASEAN countries – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam – is at the core of India’s Act East Policy.
India has undertaken two projects in Myanmar under the 1,360-km highway project that starts from Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand through Myanmar, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said in a letter to Rajya Sabha member from Assam, Birendra Prasad Baishya, in response to his query over the status of the project.
These are the construction of the 120-km Kalewa-Yagyi road sections to highway standard and upgrading of 69 bridges and approach roads on the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa (TKK) road section of 150 km, the minister said.
China has been trying to increase its influence with its infrastructure development projects under the Border and Road Initiative. Beijing has started investing in countries in India’s neighborhood, including Bangladesh, raising security concerns for New Delhi.