|Thursday, April 24, 2014

The road to India is not far away 

Kuala Lumpur: Since time immemorial traders, scholars, monks and even invaders from India have crossed over land into Southeast Asia and left behind a legacy that can be seen and felt today.

However, today people of Southeast Asia see travelling over land to the once fabled land of the maharajahs, no longer possible due to the distance, lack of proper roads and not to mention the geopolitical barriers between Southeast Asian countries and India. An analyst, Ravichandran D.J. Paul writes on India’s progress.

Soon it may not be the case anymore. People and goods from Asean countries, particularly the countries in mainland Southeast Asia, will be able to make their way to India and vice versa over land.

Thanks to India’s Look East Policy and its new diplomacy with Asean under which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government has been emphasising on terrestrial connectivity between both sides.

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Thus one of the most important events during the India-Asean Commemorative Summit last December was the India-Asean car rally, which marked the 20th anniversary of the Asean-India dialogue partnership.

The rally that started in Jakarta, Indonesia traversed a distance of 8,000km across Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar before being flagged down in New Delhi. The event attested the fact that India is in close proximity with Asean and the free flow of people and goods over land is possible.

ROAD TRAVEL TO INDIA IS POSSIBLE

Road travel to India is now possible with Asean’s last frontier Myanmar opening its bamboo curtains to the world and emerging out of isolation.

With the listing of international sanctions, Myanmar now is a magnet to investors. India made the first move to boost diplomatic ties through numerous initiatives including the proposed Trilateral Highway connecting India, Myanmar and Thailand.

Spanning 3,200 km, the Trilateral Highway links India’s north eastern states with much of Asean member states and the highway is seen as the enabler of trade and investment flows.

India in keeping its commitment to the Trilateral Highway has completed a 132 km carriageway from Moreh, in the Manipuri border town, and across the border to Mandalay, with the last 165-km stretch completed as well.

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s President Thein Sein agreed to a 2016 deadline to complete his country’s portion of the super highway linking Guwahati in Assam to Myanmar’s border with Thailand via Mandalay and the former capital Yangon. The Thais are also building their share of the stretch from Myanmar border.

Interestingly, the Trilateral Highway will be part of the envisioned Asian Highway No 1 (AH1) meaning other Asean nations including Malaysia will be in the loop sooner or later.

This highway will not only enable transportation of goods and people across the countries that the highway connects but also unearths huge economic potential along the route. It could well be the next silk route.

Most importantly, it is going to serve as the growth catalyst in the underdeveloped areas of the three countries apart from facilitating flow of trade and services.

HIDDEN POTENTIAL

Therefore during a recent senior editors visit to India in conjunction with the Asean-India Commemorative Summit, senior editor of The Nation daily Nophakhun Limsamarnphun kept his queries with the Indian officials focussed on the Trilateral Highway.

As for Nophakhun, who is also the editor of Krungthep Turakij TV, in the bigger picture the Trilateral Highway would create a new economic zone from Kolkata on the Bay of Bengal to Ho Chi Minh City on the South China Sea.

In a nutshell, the highway opens up enormous economic opportunities for Thailand.

And Nophakhun is not wrong in his assessment; the road literally links the Tiger economies of Indo-China with the big and strong Elephant economy of India.

All sides are confident that the Trilateral Highway will not only open the passage for goods and services but also people-to-people connectivity, another important facet of India’s engagement with Asean.

And for investors, the new highway provides many new opportunities – building of new ports, infrastructure, telecommunication, mining, services and the list goes on.

WILL MALAYSIA BENEFIT FROM THIS HIGHWAY?

Will Malaysia benefit from this Trilateral Highway?

Malaysia already has a good highway network that terminates in Bukit Kayu Hitam near the Thai border in the north and in Johor Baharu in the south, the gateway to Singapore. Thus a connecting road from Thailand will link Malaysia and Singapore with the Trilateral Highway and India.

Then one may ask whether travelling on road to Myanmar or India is feasible looking at the long distance and time taken? At present the distance to Yangon from Kuala Lumpur is about 2,500 km and takes about 30 hours (slightly more than a day) at a speed of 60km/h.

 A trip to Chiang Rai in the Thai-Myanmar border covering a distance of 2,400 km takes 24 hours (one day).

As for those who want to go further, the 6,300 km road journey to Mumbai takes 97 hours (4 days) and to New Delhi covering a distance of 5,600 km about 80 hours (3 days).

Travel time and distance will be reduced significantly in the future with newer routes. Moreover, travellers have the option to stop over at many locations along the way.

A ROAD FLOWING WITH POTENTIAL

The highway holds great economic potential. Road travellers will be passing through picturesque landscapes and a myriad of cultures and people. So for the travellers it is going to be an interesting ride while for the respective nations it is time to unleash their tourism potential.

Malaysia should watch closely on the emerging Trilateral Highway, it is a trade route full of economic potential. In fact it can help to promote Malaysian products and services in India. The route can also help Malaysia source raw materials from Thailand, Myanmar andn India.

The final analysis is that the terrestrial linkages being developed between India and Asean will have a profound positive impact in trade and the movement of goods and services between both sides in the medium and long term. — BERNAMA