North East gateway to India's connectivity and ties with South East Asia: FS Shringla

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New Delhi, Dec 19 (PTI) India's North Eastern region is a gateway to the country's connectivity and relations with South East Asia and can be seen as a link between two fundamental pillars of Indian foreign policy, Neighbourhood First and Act East, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said on Saturday.

In his address at the inaugural session of the North East Festival via video conference, Shringla said India has a vision for this region that is captured in the 3 Cs -- Connectivity, Commerce, and Cultural Commonalities -- and has been working through a number of concrete initiatives to realise this vision.

'At one level, we work bilaterally with our partners with a full range of diplomatic tools. At another level we work through multilateral and plurilateral initiatives such as BIMSTEC and BBIN or the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal grouping,' he said.

States of North Eastern India can be seen as the link between two fundamental pillars of the country's foreign policy, Neighbourhood First and Act East, Shringla asserted.

'From this perspective, the North East is a gateway and a portal. It binds us with some of our most important neighbours. It also connects us, and our neighbours, to one of the most economically dynamic and politically significant geographies of the world -- the ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific,' he said.

Recalling Prime Minister Narendra Modi's remarks at the convocation ceremony at IIT Guwahati in September this year, Shringla said the PM had underlined the importance of the North East in India's Act East Policy.

In his remarks, Shringla highlighted several connectivity projects India has taken with its neighbours with the North East playing a critical role in them.

Improvements in connectivity between India and Bangladesh have a direct and positive impact on the North East. Accordingly, a lot of work has been done in recent years to enhance connectivity with Bangladesh, he said.

'We have revived five rail links that used to be operational between India and Bangladesh before 1965. As many of you would have seen, the Prime Ministers of India and Bangladesh jointly inaugurated the rail link between Haldibari in West Bengal and Chilahati in Bangladesh during the virtual summit held this week,' he said.

Historically, rivers have played an important role in connecting the people and business in the region encompassing the North East and the neighbouring countries, Shringla said.

'This region was served by our common rivers, particularly Brahmaputra and Barak-Surma, which were used extensively for facilitating trade and commerce, and people-to-people contact. Recognising this, considerable efforts have been made in recent years to augment inland waterways connectivity between the North East and Bangladesh,' he said.

Noting that Myanmar has a particularly important geographical location, Shringla said India has therefore accorded high priority to projects that build regional connectivity with Myanmar.

'Future plans to enhance connectivity include a four-lane trilateral highway linking India with Thailand via Myanmar, which could see expansion up to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam,' Shringla said.

Railways that link India and Myanmar and further to Thailand, Laos, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh are all very possible in the future, he said.

'Our foreign policy initiatives for development of the North East are not limited to neighbouring countries but extend further east. We have been collaborating with Japan for the economic development of the North East,' he said.

BIMSTEC, an organisation which India strongly supports, is working on a connectivity Master Plan, Coastal Shipping Agreement and Motor Vehicle Agreement, Shringla said.

Shringla also said the 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan' announced by the prime minister, which focuses on building domestic capabilities, has significance for the states of the North East. PTI ASK SMN SMN