Integrating Northeast with ASEAN: Swaraj calls CMs meet

Imparting a fresh momentum to India’s Act East policy, External Affair Minister Sushma Swaraj has called for a meeting of chief ministers of seven Northeastern states on May 4 to intensify their integration with the country’s extended neighbourhood.The initiative comes at a time when the NDA government has stepped up efforts to spur economic and political integration of India’s Northeastern Region within the rest of the country and the larger ASEAN region.

The minister is expected to brief chief ministers about the government’s vision of its Act East policy and various ways in which these states can benefit for enhanced engagement with Southeast Asian countries.The ‘Act East Policy’ is directed towards enhancing India’s ties with its Southeast Asian neighbours with the twin aim of bolstering economic and business ties with neighbours and generating development opportunity for the northeast states.

“India’s “Act East” policy is crucial to the entire South East Asian region”, said Minister of State of the Ministry of Development of North-Eastern Region (DoNER) Jitendra Singh  at a conference on “India-Myanmar Trade and Connectivity” held few days ago.After hosting ten ASEAN leaders in Delhi in January at a special commemorative summit, the Indian government is accelerating its diplomatic outreach ASEAN countries.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly underlined that the Northeast is at the heart of government’s Act East policy, a transformation and upgrade of Look East policy launched by PV Narasimha Rao government in early 1990s.“We created the Act East Policy and the north east is at the heart of it. The Act East Policy requires increased people to people contact, trade ties and other relations with countries to India’s east, particularly Asean members,” PM Modi said in Guwahati in February.

The north east region recognizes this policy as beneficial for the development of the connectivity within this region and also with the rest of Indian subcontinent.  “Many of the initiatives under the Act East policy such as the Kaladan multi mode transport project (connecting north East to Myanmar) and India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway can immensely benefit the North East”, said Rajat Kumar Sethi, adviser to Manipur chief minister Nongthombam Biren Singh.

States in the region could benefit from the Act East policy through more trade, investment, and infrastructure development, added Prem D Rai, a Lok Sabha MP from the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF).Though India-Asean trade is around $70 billion, just 1% of it passes through the North East. “That can be changed. Thailand is a 10-hour drive from Manipur, and if we improve infrastructure the state can benefit immensely from the trade with Asean,” Rai added.



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