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India not interested in road to connect itself with China

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 29th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Chinese and Indian participants at the 8th version of the Kunming to Kolkata Forum, which is dedicated to developing relations between the two Asian nations, called for opening a land corridor between Kunming, capital of Yunnan province in China, and Kolkata in eastern India. However, India seems disinterested in building a road with its massive neighbor.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The goal of the road is to improve sub-regional trade, tourism and industrial investments in the relatively less developed frontier regions of India, Myanmar and China. The conference, which ended November 22, chose not to emphasize the fact that an already existing road with the potential to fulfill this goal is already in existence.

The Chinese have developed their side of the 1736-kilometre Stilwell Road into a six-lane highway leading to the Yunnan province. A trans-national highway connecting India, Myanmar, and China was built during the Second World War. The road is part of Beijing's "Gateway Strategy" to use this frontier zone to connect to several South Asian and Southeast Asian countries through improved air, rail and road links.

Despite its declared intent to use its troubled northeastern states to connect to China and Southeast Asia as part of its "Look East" foreign policy - which forges better relations with its Asian neighbors, India seems uninterested in developing its part of the Stilwell Road.

About half of the 61 kilometers of the road that lie in India is barely usable.

"Work started on the Indian portion of this road seven years ago but it seems the condition of the highway has worsened. Much of it is difficult to use during monsoons," Indian official Meenakshi Sundaram says. "There is too much of mud and slush as the highway rises into the mountains of Pangshau from the town of Jairampur."

The Stilwell Road was completed in 1944 by the Allies who used it to supply Chiang-Kai-Shek's Kuomintang armies against the Japanese. Beginning at Ledo in India's Assam state, the road goes into Myanmar through the Pangshau Pass, traverses the Sagaing and Kachin states of Myanmar before winding up into China's Yunnan province.

There were suggestions in the 1990s that the Stilwell Road could be developed and modernized for trans-regional trade between India, Myanmar and China amid declarations of interest from India.

The Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC), in a detailed report suggested that the Stilwell Road could fuel Sino-Indian trade.

"The markets of southwest China will be much nearer to India's northeast through this road. There would be a fresh impetus for setting up industries in northeast India if the Stilwell Road was available for trade with China," Nazeeb Arif, a former ICC secretary general says.

A national seminar organized by the Kolkota-based Maulana Azad Institute of Asian Studies in 2002 unanimously recommended that the Stilwell Road be renovated and opened for trade between eastern India, northern Myanmar and southwest China as part of a sub-regional initiative.

However, the Indian military remains one of the most vocal voices against developing the Stilwell Road and opening it for trade with China.

"India's security will stand compromised because the Chinese would be in a position to use this road in the event of a war," says retired Lieutenant General J. R. Mukherjee, a former chief of staff of India's eastern army.

Another former Indian commerce minister has suggested that the Stilwell Road would be used for dumping Chinese goods in India's northeast.

Indian diplomats are seeking to promote an alternate and much longer "land corridor," which is being considered to connect southwest China with eastern India through Myanmar, over which a car rally is expected to take place earlier next year.

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