But, the changes in the international affairs have been perhaps less dramatic but in numerous cases little less sweeping. The causes are also been similar. Under the AEP, the India-Japan strategic partnership has been lifted to an entirely new level, underscoring the importance of Indo-Pacific cooperation. India believes in an Indo-Pacific that is free, open and inclusive, and one that is founded upon a cooperative and collaborative rules-based order.
He had, in addition, called for common commitment, based on shared values and principles, to promote a rules-based order in the Indo—Pacific. The Act East cooperation offers many opportunities, but the region is also rife with threats and challenges. Today, India and ASEAN neighbours have been facing new challenges, not only in economic areas but also in the areas of security and environment. These were completely new and not were in when AEP was introduced.
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The region is faced with the US-China trade war, which has been escalating instead of cooling down. Chinese threat in the South China Sea is well known. Besides, there are many non-traditional security threats such as cyber security, terrorism , natural disasters, to mention a few. The problem is further compounded by the fact that countries are taking recourse of protectionism, both economic and otherwise.
There is, therefore, a natural call to India from Southeast and East Asia. It is high time that we address these challenges by forging new partnership. Here is a point agenda for efforts towards energising the AEP. First and foremost, complete the tasks as promised in the Delhi Declaration Many of the states have taken Act East move but progress has been limited.
To guide the states in implementing the AEP, we need special package. The Act East through the North East can flourish if the central and state governments work towards improving the connectivity in the region, particularly at the border areas. Fourth, SMEs drive the business — within and across borders. This time we expect special focus should be given to SMEs, which can build effective business networks across borders. Many new industries in Northeast and East India are unaware of the potential of ASEAN market, both for finished as well as intermediategoods and services.
SMEs in Northeast India would preferaccess to packaging technology or cold chain facilities. Fifth, development cooperation projects earmarked for the Act East should be put in fast-track by avoiding cumbersome documentation and bureaucratic procedures. Building an effective network of export credit guarantee agencies between India and Southeast and East Asian countries would improve the utilization of LOCs as well as trade.
Sixth, AEP mandates cooperation and synergy among multiple stakeholders. Funding on just-in-time is needed toactivate the AEP. The bureaucratic process often acts as hurdles, delaying the projects or funding. Eastern and Northeastern states may consider appointing one Act East Office at the rank of Additional Secretary to drive the AEPand coordinate with the union government. Seventh, low-hanging fruits.
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Indian states are rich in culture. Air connectivity between Northeast India and Southeast Asia is immediately needed unlockopportunities.
Ministry of Civil Aviation should walk extra mile to start international flights from Imphal and Guwahati and also upgrade the domestic airports into international airports in Northeast and others parts of India. This will also promote health tourism in Northeast. Eighth, expand the outreach. Ninth, institutions and governance in institutions matter for AEP. No new institution is suggested, but whatever the country has promised earlier through international declaration or the speeches of Prime Minister, we must implement it.
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These should be taken up. Tenth, strengthen border infrastructure, logistics and last-mile connectivity. Let major border posts operate 24x7. Complete the construction of ICP projects and equip the ICPs with high speed Internet, food testing laboratories, warehousing including cold chains, security, banking facilities, skilled human resources, etc. Some of the border posts e.
Moreh in Manipur were not properly developed due to border disputes or lack of availability of adequate land, resulting in rampant rise of informal trade. Increasing duty structure is not the correct way to stop informal trade when border is open and porous. An innovative solution is needed to stop illegal trade at border, particularly at Moreh in Manipur.
It now marks the latest addition to the BRI. While Nepal formally joined the Belt and Road in May , the country has held multiple bilateral discussions with China on creating a corridor across the Himalayan Mountains. China is aware of the geographic and political challenges to creating a corridor connecting Kathmandu and Beijing. The Himalayas are a natural geographic barrier, and New Delhi is unlikely to take Sino-Nepalese collaboration along its northern borders lightly.
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In , Beijing doubled down on this thinking by proposing a broader Trans-Himalayan Economic Corridor, a trilateral project involving Nepal and India. Nepal is reliant on India for the movement of its goods and is keen to present itself as a transit hub for cross-Himalayan trade. Instead, they can serve as important bridges that connect the two emerging regions of [the] Asian continent. Most importantly, connectivity lies at the heart of trans-Himalayan cooperation.
To further extend its already sizable connectivity ambitions, China began proposing a rail link to Nepal that would cut through the Himalayas. Beijing quickly began to emerge as an alternative to landlocked Nepal.
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While China initially was sensitive to Indian concerns about strategic connectivity with Nepal, the India-Nepal blockade strengthened the wills of both Kathmandu and Beijing to foster direct links between the two nations. In , the Madhesis—Indian-originating inhabitants of Nepal—blocked the Indo-Nepalese border, demanding greater representation by way of the Nepalese constitution.
India watched these rapid developments in its neighborhood closely. Since independence, India had chosen to keep its Himalayan borders inaccessible and poorly connected. While China aggressively sought to connect its borders, India neglected its own, creating massive disconnects between its borders and hinterlands, especially on its Himalayan front.
The current government announced its intention in to fast-track railway projects on its Himalayan frontiers. Building up its border regions as opposed to keeping them disconnected will help India facilitate the movement of goods and troops from other parts of the country to this region. New Delhi will have to continue to act and think rapidly when it comes to presenting alternatives to its landlocked neighbors, especially as China continues to knock on their doors with significant commercial benefits in hand.
Sino-Indian competition in the Himalayas is likely to intensify, deepening the security dilemma between the two countries. Beijing later gradually expanded the initiative to include other coastal countries with the aim of connecting China to potential economic partners in Europe, Africa, and the Indian Ocean. The MSR encompasses a variety of infrastructure projects, including ports, highways, airports, roads, and bridges. Unlike the competition along the Himalayas, interactions at sea between India and China have been limited, although India still harbors reservations.
Concerns about Chinese attempts to strategically encircle India gained traction at the turn of the millennium.
Although many observers dismissed the notion that China is seeking military bases in the Indian Ocean as fanciful, India has seen its worst fears of Chinese power projection become reality in the last decade. As China internally debates the need for foreign military bases, New Delhi has had to come to terms with the intensity and frequency of Chinese naval forays into the Indian Ocean. Chinese submarines have even docked in Sri Lankan and Pakistani ports.
The port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka is the newest concern. Where possible, the Indian and Chinese governments increasingly recognize that they must find a way to limit the potential for conflict in the maritime domain. One method for doing so is the India-China maritime security dialogue, which is aimed at establishing a regular channel for communicating about challenges and concerns. While these and other efforts to mitigate the security dilemma between Beijing and New Delhi are under way, tensions remain. At the same time, to protect its own interests, India already has begun taking some steps largely on its own.
For example, India is modernizing and expanding its own maritime infrastructure and creating institutional capabilities to undertake infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean and countries that border it. India has long been an important security provider and strategic partner to island nations like the Maldives, Mauritius, the Seychelles, and Sri Lanka. Although these islands are small, they lie in crucial sea lines of communication that offer a significant basis for projecting power and securing and protecting key trading routes. These islands could afford any nation with influence over them the opportunity to monitor waterways and project power during times of peace and the ability to indict adversaries during conflicts.
India has long engaged in initiating capacity-building programs for island states to secure their maritime surroundings.
In addition, India is helping island states monitor and address nontraditional security threats, such as drug trafficking, by building a radar network with a range that extends from Sri Lanka to Mauritius. Given that the bulk of global trading is seaborne, the ability to protect energy supply lines is extremely crucial for a rising power like China.
For Beijing to become a global power, it will have to establish itself as a key player in the Indian Ocean region in terms of protecting its supply lines and securing international waters. Yet it will be difficult for China to maintain the naval presence required to achieve these objectives without access to ports and bases for its military assets in the Indian Ocean. The MSR attempts to do both. To further address the Malacca Dilemma, China has revived the idea of constructing the Kra Canal, a proposed waterway that would cut across the Kra Isthmus in Thailand, bypassing the Malacca Strait.
While this idea has been around since the nineteenth century, it has not yet been realized due to various political and strategic concerns. If completed, the canal would shorten the travel distance between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The construction of the canal requires significant capital and technology, which the MSR could furnish. In addition to any unilateral steps it is taking, New Delhi is working more closely with other countries.
India is strengthening its security ties with Indian Ocean neighbors—such as the Maldives, Mauritius, the Seychelles, and Sri Lanka—even as it revitalizes a sense of Indian Ocean regionalism and steps up naval engagement with the littoral states of the Bay of Bengal.
At the same time, New Delhi is expanding naval engagement and other forms of collaboration with Australia, France, Japan, and the United States to maintain the current security environment and protect its strategic and security interests.
India understands the economic and technical limitations that constrain its ability to present a vision for regional connectivity. One key will be taking a collaborative approach with regional partners. While New Delhi and Tokyo have clearly indicated that they possess the political will and intent to work on strategic economic projects, the question has now become a matter of implementation.