01 June 2017

News Report: India, China Struggle to Complete OBOR-Like Project in Southeast Asia

After announcing the highly ambitious Southeast Asian connectivity project in 2002, India has once again promised to expedite the India-Myanmar-Thailand project which was once touted as a rival to China's One Belt, One Road.

NEW DELHI (Sputnik) — India's Minister of Road Transport & Highway Nitin Gadkari has said the government will begin work on the highway from the northeastern state of Meghalaya to Myanmar under the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral pact from next month. The project will connect Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand.

"We will probably start work on Meghalaya to Myanmar project from next month. The cost of the project is approximately $750 million," Gadkari said on Tuesday in Mumbai.

The 1360-kilometer-long project was kicked off in 2005 with the ambition of boosting trade, business, health and tourism among them. It has 69 dilapidated road bridges en route which is a crucial part of the Moreh-Mae Sot highway.

Last year, the government had made a claim that project would be completed by 2020 but with the current speed and lack of clarity over funding, it is hard to believe that the completion schedule will not be extended once again. Now, NITI Aayog, India's apex policy-making body under the chairmanship of PM Narendra Modi, is proposing a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for constructing the trilateral highway.

"Better monitoring policy and innovative projects like an SPV of these three countries would be a much easier and faster way to complete the trilateral highway project," Manoj Singh, an advisor with NITI Aayog, said.

Without making any headway related to the project in Myanmar, the Indian government is also exploring the possibility of extending the highway project to Cambodia, Laos PDR and Vietnam (Mekong sub-region). The Mekong sub-region can connect the Bay of Bengal to the South China Sea by land if this comes through.

A Chinese rail project had also been proposed to develop rail network in these countries i.e. Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore in 2010. Under the plan, China will connect its southwest Yunnan provincial capital of Kunming with the Southeast Asian nations with high- and medium-speed rail services.

China expects construction work in Thailand to begin from this year subject to completion of negotiation with Thailand. Works have also been seen in a slow lane in Laos and Indonesia. If this project is completed in 2019, Beijing will have a strategic advantage to reach the Indian Ocean through these countries. 

This story first appeared on Sputnik & is reposted here with permission.