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India and ASEAN vow to link Northeast with Southeast Asia

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen with Vice President of India Jagdeep Dhankhar at the Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel on Saturday (Image courtesy: Office of Cambodian PM)

India and the Southeast Asian countries once again on Saturday pledged their support to quickly complete the India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) Trilateral Highway and its eastward extension to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

At the 19th ASEAN-India Summit to commemorate the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-India dialogue relations in Phnom Penh today, the member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) acknowledged the deep civilizational linkages, maritime connectivity, and cross-cultural exchanges between Southeast Asia and India.

The Joint Statement on ASEAN-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership released after the summit stated the need to link the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025, and India’s connectivity initiatives under its Act East Policy.

Map courtesy: Google

The move will lay a strong foundation for ASEAN-India relations which have grown stronger like never before.

The 1360 km long India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway is an initiative pertaining to India, Myanmar and Thailand. India is undertaking the construction of two sections of the Trilateral Highway in Myanmar – the 120.74 km Kalewa-Yagyi road section and the 69 bridges along with the approach road on the 149.70 km Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa (TKK) road section.

Through its Act East policy, India has in recent years focused consistently on the development and prosperity of the North Eastern states by improving connectivity, access, and facilities to the region.

This includes various initiatives like connecting the North East Region with Bangladesh, improving access to North East from Myanmar to facilitate tourism and cross-border connectivity, promoting of Land Border Crossing Agreement and Integrated Check Post at Moreh, and infrastructure projects like IMT trilateral highway and Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (KMMTTP) in Myanmar.

New Delhi continues to make efforts for expeditious completion of KMMTTP – pivoting on Sittwe port in Myanmar and will upon completion connect India’s northeast to South East Asia – work on which had slowed down mainly due to the security situation on Myanmar side and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Kaladan project includes a waterways component of 158 km on the Kaladan river from Sittwe Port to Paletwa in Myanmar and a road component of 109 km from Paletwa to Zorinpui on the India-Myanmar border in Mizoram state.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who is in the Cambodian capital as part of the delegation accompanying Vice President of India Jagdeep Dhankhar, had flagged the issue during his meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on the sidelines of the ASEAN Ministerial in August.

Discussion on connectivity also featured during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s virtual meeting with Hun Sen in May this year after Cambodia assumed the chairmanship of ASEAN.

In Phnom Penh on Saturday, the countries of the region appreciated India’s support for ASEAN Centrality in the evolving regional architecture and its continued contribution to regional peace, security, and prosperity.

The two sides also agreed to advance maritime cooperation, including in maritime security, countering piracy and armed robbery against ships, maritime safety, search and rescue (SAR) operations humanitarian assistance, disaster management, and emergency response and relief.

Also Read: Dhankhar arrives in Phnom Penh to cement India’s ties with Southeast Asian nations