India, Japan to step up work to link northeast region with Indo-Pacific

While making the opening remarks at a webinar organised by India's Ministry of External Affairs, the Japanese embassy in New Delhi and the ASEAN-India Centre at the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), Suzuki said peace and security of the Indo-Pacific remain paramount for stability and prosperity of not only the region itself but of the entire world, given its weight in the global economy.

In their quest for a free and open Indo-Pacific, India and Japan will continue to make joint efforts to enhance connectivity, especially in India's northeast and Bangladesh, to cope with various challenges the region faces, Japanese Ambassador to India Satoshi Suzuki said.

Stressing that the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) has been given a major thrust under India's strong leadership, Suzuki believes that connectivity is the best area to showcase how both countries can bring about tangible benefits to the entire region.

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While making the opening remarks at a webinar organised by India's Ministry of External Affairs, the Japanese embassy in New Delhi and the ASEAN-India Centre at the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), Suzuki said peace and security of the Indo-Pacific remain paramount for stability and prosperity of not only the region itself but of the entire world, given its weight in the global economy.

He pointed out the "exemplary case" of Japan-India cooperation in North East India and Bangladesh to highlight how the India-Japan partnership can enhance both maritime and land connectivity in a mutually reinforcing manner.

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"Japan's decision to become the lead country for the connectivity pillar of IPOI was a strong reaffirmation of our commitment to the enhancement of connectivity. But on the ground, bilateral cooperation in this area is nothing new. Our two countries have long been advancing various connectivity projects in India as well as in third countries," Suzuki said during the inaugural session of 'Connectivity Cooperation towards a Free, Open and Inclusive Indo-Pacific' organised on Thursday.

The ambassador reiterated that India's North-East remains a focus area for Japan in its quest for a free and open Indo-Pacific. With the North East itself not having an outlet to the sea, Japan and India continue to work closely in the region, upgrading highways all the way to the border with Bangladesh.

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Earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the 'Maitri Setu' bridge between India and Bangladesh which has been built over the Feni river which flows between the Indian state of Tripura and Bangladesh. The 1.9 Km long bridge joins Sabroom in south Tripura with Ramgarh in Bangladesh. With the inauguration of the bridge, Tripura is set to become the �Gateway of North East' with access to Chittagong Port of Bangladesh, which is just 80 km from the Sabroom.

From Ramgarh to Baraiyarhat, India is building a road while Japan is constructing eight bridges.

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"This means, if you look at all these joint efforts by Japan and India in a holistic view, there appears a dynamic connectivity network in which Japan-India collaboration provides the landlocked North East with access to the Bay of Bengal and beyond, most importantly to ASEAN countries. As IPOI rightly captures, the Indo-Pacific maritime domain is the source of growth and prosperity, so better access to these Oceans is vital for the improvement of people's lives," said Suzuki while highlighting how much difference the two countries are making to the lives of people in the region.

Japan is also partnering with India in building the 20 km, a four-lane bridge between Dhubri in Assam and Phulbari in Meghalaya. Besides the North East, Tokyo has undertaken several connectivity initiatives in India, including mega projects like the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail, the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC), the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, the Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor (CBIC).

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"Japan and India will continue such joint efforts of enhancing connectivity in the Indo-Pacific region, utilizing our expertise and complementarity. We welcome any other country which shares our vision to come on board on such endeavours," Suzuki said.

The joint vision was further highlighted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga during the Quad Leaders Summit, last week

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Seeking the synergy between India's 'Act East policy and Japan's 'Partnership for Quality Infrastructure, the two countries have agreed to develop and strengthen reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructures that augment connectivity within India, and between India and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

India has time and again underscored the importance of 'connectivity in the Indo-Pacific, calling it a uniting factor rather than just enhancing trade and prosperity in the region.

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It continues to be an important pillar of Act East Policy and the doctrine of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR), forming the building blocks for India's Indo-Pacific Vision since first announced by PM Modi during his first term.

"India's Indo-Pacific Vision envisages a free, open and inclusive region, which embraces all nations in the region and beyond in a common pursuit of progress and prosperity. The Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative or IPOI envisages practical implementation of this vision with its seven pillars of cooperation and collaboration, with connectivity being one such pillar," Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary (East) at the MEA, mentioned during Thursday's webinar.

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The Indian diplomat underlined how since the last few years, there has been a renewed focus on connectivity with efforts being made in India's immediate and extended neighbourhood by initiating activities including upgrading ports, rail, and airport infrastructure, laying of new pipelines, building electricity networks, and reinvigorating people-to-people exchanges.

"Robust connectivity with countries of the region, near or far, is deep-rooted in Indian civilizational history. Indian culture has been enriched by ancient linkages with the rest of the world, just as the light of Indian culture has shone in lands connected across land and seas by emissaries and merchants," said Das.

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India has since 2005-06, she informed, extended Lines of Credit worth nearly USD 31 billion to more than 64 countries. "Our Act East Policy is at the centre of our connectivity orientation and a fulcrum of our broader approach to the Indo-Pacific. Our efforts are focused on connecting our North-East with the dynamic economies of South East Asia, and enhancing connectivity within the North East itself."

Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) are being constructed or expanded to facilitate trade and mobility along the borders with Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Myanmar. Rail and road inland waterway connectivity agreements are being improved with Nepal and Bangladesh. The oil pipeline from Motihari in India to Amlekhgunj in Nepal was inaugurated in 2019. In Myanmar, the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit project, India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Rhi-Tiddim Road continue to be the area of focus.

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"India is also considering the eastward extension of the IMT Highway towards Cambodia, Lao and Vietnam. We are now exploring to build connectivity between Andaman and Nicobar and Sabang in Indonesia and also between Visakhapatnam, Chennai and Kolkata and Ranong port in Thailand. We intend to establish direct shipping routes between India and Vietnam," Das said.

Towards the west, India is developing the Chabahar Port as a gateway for onward connectivity to and from Afghanistan and Central Asia. It has the potential to be an important link in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). INSTC is an important trade corridor project, wherein India is partnering with 12 countries to establish an economic corridor for the benefit of people.

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Towards the South, Sri Lanka and Maldives remain India's focus of maritime connectivity efforts in the Indo-Pacific Region. In Sri Lanka, India has extended nearly US$ 1.2 billion towards the development of the railway sector. The Jaffna airport, in Northern Sri Lanka, is now reconnected with a direct flight to India. India and Maldives have operationalized a cargo ferry service. India is now looking to build other infrastructure and connectivity projects in Male.

"Given Japan's expertise in the development of quality infrastructure, we believe that Japan's lead on the Connectivity Pillar of IPOI will give a boost to connectivity in the region and contribute to unlocking the potential for an equitable, positive and forward-looking change in the region contributing to security and growth of the Indo-Pacific," the Secretary said.

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