By Simran Walia
India’s partnership with Japan in the development of its north-eastern states is set to acquire greater momentum in the coming days. In a recent visit to Assam, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar underscored Tokyo’s crucial role in highlighted integration of the North-eastern states with the larger ASEAN region.In his speech in Guwahati, Dr Jaishankar spoke enunciated India’s, ‘Act East Policy’ and growing India-Japan cooperation across the spectrum. He noted that Assam had played a major role in linking India to Korea and Japan in the past. India and Japan have evolved as close strategic partners, especially in the current decade.
Japanese Ambassador to India Satoshi Suzuki highlighted the pivotal role of the Northeast states for economic resurgence of India, saying “for India to achieve the 5 -trillion-dollar economy, the development of North East is indispensable.”Japan’s involvement in the North-East began in the time of UPA government, with Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) in 2010 and became even more substantive under the NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both nations have been cooperating for the economic development of India’s North-East region through connectivity building and infrastructure projects. In April 2017, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) signed an agreement with India to provide around 67 billion Yen for phase 1 of the Northeast road network connectivity improvement project which would also focus on important projects in Meghalaya and Mizoram. Modi and PM Abe also launched the ‘Act-East Forum’ in 2017 to establish specific projects for economic modernisation of India’s Northeastern region. Furthermore, the areas of interests to the forum are connectivity, developmental infrastructure and industrial linkages.
Mr Jaishankar also pointed out that it was vital for the future of Asia to build connectivity from the Arabian Sea to the South China Sea, and added that this seamless connectivity could be possible by making Assam the meeting point of such efforts. The fifth joint meeting of the India-Japan Act East Forum was held recently in February where the progress of ongoing projects in the Northeastern region of India including hydropower, connectivity, sustainable development and skill development was reviewed.
“It is from this viewpoint that one should understand the Act East policy of the Modi Government. This is an approach to create connectivity to and within Assam, beyond to the North-East, then to neighbouring Myanmar and Bangladesh, but eventually push all the way by road, by sea, by air to Vietnam, to Japan,” said Mr Jaishankar. “In doing so, we must appreciate that this will not only service greater economic activity but, as demonstrated in other parts of the world, actually be a driver of it. A more connected Assam will be a more energetic Assam, a more contributing Assam, and obviously, a more employed Assam,” he said.
The Act-East forum took up several projects like Dubri-Phulbari Project, which is said to be the longest river bridge in India and sustained forest management projects in Tripura and Meghalaya. The forum forms part of a definite shift in policy under the Modi government, that is, the shift from Look East to Act East. The Act East Policy has been a major impetus in the flow of Japanese assistance. The cooperation between India and Japan in the Northeast also comes in direct response to China’s increasing focus on connectivity through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It was also pointed out that there are several projects on the strengthening of health systems and medical education in Assam. The North-east is also strategically important to realise the vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific and Japan is quite proud to be a partner with the people of the Northeast.
Japan Boost for Infrastructure
In his speech, Mr Jaishankar focussed on India’s collaboration with Japan in its efforts to build infrastructure and modernize its economy like the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and the dedicated Freight corridor.Eleven airports are to be modernized in the North-east region, out of which six are in Assam. This would certainly play a major role in turning Assam into a transportation hub attracting tourist and transport flows from countries like Singapore, Myanmar and Thailand. In Assam, Japan was also involved in a drinking water and sewerage network system in the state capital. India has been coordinating with Japanese projects undertaken in Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, which in turn, would give power and connectivity projects in Northeastern India a boost.
Northeastern region is situated in a place where India’s Act East policy and Japan’s concept for a free and open Indo-pacific converge. Therefore, to be free and open is critical in Assam and Japan is supporting various connectivity projects in this state of the region. Assam can play a crucial role in the larger region in power, in terms of transportation, energy and the movement of people. The cooperation between India and Japan can surely make a difference to the development of Assam.
Recently, India signed an agreement with Japan on specified skilled workers which would open the way for Indian talent to access the Japanese economy. India is also quite hopeful that Japan would build its relationship with IIT Guwahati and other institutions in Assam where Assamese students could also get access to the Japanese economy. The potential for collaboration in Assam is tremendous, right from capacity building in water supply to disaster management and urban planning.
Closer India-Japan collaboration and its security ties are based on a commitment to a peaceful and open rules-based order in the Indo-pacific. Within a decade, India-Japan partnership has branched out in diverse areas, making Tokyo an indispensable partner of New Delhi. The conferral of Padma Bhushan on Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe is emblematic of this journey.
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