India is many leagues behind China in building connectivity to ASEAN countries
The conversation here in Kuala Lumpur turns to an exciting possibility that lies just around the bend — the ability, coming up soon, to drive several thousands kilometres all the way up to Kunming, in south-western China. A major part of the project, connecting Kunming to Bangkok, Thailand, will be completed as early as 2006. Bangkok, of course, is already connected by road and rail to Malaysia and Singapore.
Although India’s ‘Look East’ foreign policy has taken a firmer shape in recent years, tangible results are a long way off. India too has announced plans to build roads connecting its north-eastern states to peninsular Malaysia. But until recently, its eastern view was blocked by its relations with the Myanmarese junta. The result is that while China is resolutely eyeing the finish line, India is only warming up for the race. India’s historic inability to build good roads at home does not inspire much optimism in its ability to pull off this international road-building venture.
Yet, that is exactly what India must do. It must find imaginative ways to prevent its Myanmar policy come in the way of securing vital trade routes to the ASEAN countries. China’s head start need not be a cause for despair — the road link from India just needs to connect with the China’s own initiative. That will give India access both to China and south-east Asia.
Affairs like the India-ASEAN car rally are excellent ways to concentrate minds, but need to be followed up with concrete projects. Unless that happens, all roads from south-east Asia will only lead to China.