Greater Mekong Sub Region Connectivity and Opportunities in North East Indiaadmin
Six nations bordering the Mekong river namely, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and the Yunnan and Guangxi provinces of China collectively form the economic entity known as the Greater Mekong Sub Region (GMR).
This economic cooperation program was inaugurated in 1992 through the initiative of Asian Development Bank (ADB). This initiative has projected the development of the economic corridors in Southeast Asia to enhance connectivity within the region. It provides a benchmark for successful sub-regional and cross-border cooperation and has achieved significant progress in the construction of road networks and transportation regulatory arrangements.
The Greater Mekong Sub region (GMS) is a market of more than 240 million people and a land area of 2.3 million square kilometres. There are abundant resources, including a rich agricultural base, extensive timber and fisheries resources, considerable mineral potentials, and vast energy resources in the form of hydropower and large coal and petroleum resources and availability of low cost workforce. Thus in term of resources, natural and otherwise, this region has the potential to turn into a major economy hub in Southeast Asia with proper investment and development of infrastructure.
The GMS has played a key role since its inception in 1992, by facilitating Southeast Asia economic integration. The GMS have focused on a number of infrastructure projects to connect the countries in the sub region via economic corridors. These projects have developed road and rail networks and air transport in the GMS countries, which can be useful “ready-made” links for South–Southeast Asia connectivity. An additional consideration is the role of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It serves as a secretariat to sub regional arrangements in the GMS as well as in South Asia, such as the South Asia Sub regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC).
Connectivity with Northeast India
India has a lot to benefit by strengthening trade relation with the greater Mekong Region. Since the 1990s, when India ushered in great economic reforms, ‘the look east policy’ was implemented which saw the promotion of trade partnership and connectivity projects being laid out. Creation of a smooth connectivity with the Southeast Asian region has been a key element in India’s policy of seeking partnerships on economic, technical and strategic fronts. But unfortunately these policies haven’t been really able to tap the economical opportunities available in this region.
Presently the ‘look east’ policy has been approached with a new fervent with ACT EAST POLICY. During India’s Prime Ministers visit to Myanmar to attend ASEAN Summit in November 2014, he announced transformation of India’s ‘Look East’ to ‘Act East Policy thereby indicating that New Delhi is ready to put more substance in realizing the goals of such a policy. While Myanmar is a lynchpin and one of the most important gateways for getting connected to the ASEAN and the region beyond India’s Northern Eastern states also have a greater role to play by serving as a firm base for launching
India’s Act East policy
As part of this renewed Look East and now ‘Act East Policy’ initiative, India spearheaded the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation Initiative (MGCI) in November 2000, with India, Cambodia, Laos People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam as members. MGCI has four basic objectives apart from identifying common heritage and cultural linkages. These are: tourism, culture, education and transport and communications. These initiatives included Mekong-Ganga Tourism Investment Guide, promotion of tourism in famous cultural and religious sites, preservation of ancient manuscripts, heritage sites and artefacts, increasing student exchanges through providing scholarships, and improving and developing road, rail and air links between these sites. This multilateral initiative was not only designed to improve the cultural ties, but also strengthen the commercial links and connectivity between India and the member states. There have been several other initiatives in the last one decade to concretize a sub-regional cooperation such as the South Asia Growth Quadrangle initiative, Kunming initiative, the Bangladesh-China- India and Myanmar (BCIM) initiative, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Techno-Economic Cooperation (BIMST-EC). However, not much material is available on the outcomes of these projects. Nonetheless, Northeast India should actively participate in forming trade relation with the Greater Mekong Region due to its close proximity with the region and also cultural and territorial similarities The concept of the Mekong-India Economic Corridor (MIEC) has been under consideration for several years as a major India-ASEAN connectivity initiative. Integrating the four Greater Mekong Countries, namely Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam with India through its east coast and North East region, it will link vibrant emerging economies through a network of land and sea infrastructure.
On the similar line to Mekong-Ganga plan, we could rather focus on Mekong- Brahmaputra Cooperation Initiative. The corridor is envisaged as a dynamic industrial region comprising large investment zones, rapid port and rail connectivity, and smart cities. Thus, development of infrastructure and connectivity networks in the North East region and their linkages to the Greater Mekong Sub Region, whether over land or through maritime domain will be intrinsic to the success of India’s Act East Policy and ASEAN economic development.
Namami Brahmaputra, a five-day river festival, is going to be held across 21 districts in Assam from March 31 to April 4. The festival will showcase the National Waterways, especially NW-2 from Dhubri to Sadiya, which is a bridge to drive economic progress in South East Asian markets, as part of India’s ‘Act East Policy’
A trade relation with GMR region with Northeast is sure to pay great dividends. Therefore effort needs to be paced up to strategize systemic business engagement with the Greater Mekong Region. The Northeastern region of India is an essential factor in extending linkages with the Southeast Asian countries, it is important this region jointly participates in the development process of the region. Similar to the GMS structure where the Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region are at the front line of China’s participation in the regional structure, the Northeastern states too needs to be integrated into the eastern periphery of Greater Mekong Region.