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Address by Secretary (East) at the Virtual Seminar on Connectivity Cooperation for a Free, Open and Inclusive Indo-Pacific

Posted on: March 18, 2021 | Back | Print

Thank you Prof. Chaturvedi
His Excellency, Amb. Satoshi Suzuki, Ambassador of Japan to India, Chairman RIS, Dr. Mohan Kumar,
Distinguished Panelists & Guests,
Ladies & Gentlemen,

I am delighted to participate in this Virtual Seminar on Connectivity Cooperation for a Free, Open and Inclusive Indo-Pacific.

I would like to first congratulate ASEAN-India Centre at RIS, New Delhi for organising this Seminar in collaboration with Embassy of Japan in New Delhi. MEA is delighted to partner with them in organizing this webinar on the important issue of Connectivity in the Indo-Pacific Region which has become the focus of attention for much of the discussions on the rapidly evolving global order.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The importance of Connectivity in the Indo-Pacific can be gauged from the fact that Prime Minster Modi while elaborating India’s Vision of the Indo-Pacific at Shangri-La Dialogue in 2018, stated that "Connectivity is vital” since it does more than just enhance trade and prosperity, it unites the region. It doesn’t focuses just on building infrastructure but also on building trust.

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.

In today’s interconnected world, the correlation between connectivity and economic growth has got even more pronounced. Growth in trade, commerce, industrial development and technological advancement has gone hand in hand with enhanced connectivity.

Given our geographical location, connectivity comes naturally to us. However, in the last few years, there has been a renewed focus on connectivity, both within India as well as with our partner countries. Efforts have been made in promoting connectivity with India’s immediate and extended neighbourhood by activities including upgrading ports, rail, and airport infrastructure, laying of new pipelines, building electricity networks, and reinvigorating people-to-people exchanges.

It is therefore natural that connectivity forms an important Pillar of India’s Act East Policy and its doctrine of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) announced by Hon’ble PM in 2014 and 2015 respectively, which form the building blocks for India’s Indo-Pacific Vision.

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.

Promotion of Connectivity in the region has certain pre-requisites to make such activity sustainable from all angles. The first and foremost is a common and universally applicable rules-based world order, which upholds sovereignty, territorial integrity and equality of all nations. All nations must respect their international commitments. Second, meaningful connectivity requires everyone to have equal access under international law to the use of global commons that would require freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law. Third, connectivity efforts in the region must be based on principles of economic viability and financial responsibility. All connectivity initiatives must follow universally recognized international norms, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality. Incorporation of ecological and environmental standards and skill and technology transfer makes connectivity and infrastructure sustainable in the long term. Fourth, connectivity initiatives that straddle national boundaries must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations. They should promote trade, not tension.

India has undertaken a number of initiatives and projects under this overall vision and mindful of these principles. At home, India has taken several initiatives to improve physical and digital connectivity. Bharatmala Pariyojana is a new umbrella program for the highways sector that envisages building more than 80,000 Km of roads with an investment of around US$ 107 billion. Sagarmala aims at Port Connectivity Enhancement, Port-linked Industrialization, Coastal Community Development and giving impetus to Coastal Shipping. Multi-Modal Logistics Parks shall act as hubs for freight movement enabling freight aggregation, distribution and multi-modal transportation. Dedicated Freight Corridors aims at reduction in unit cost of transportation with higher speed of freight trains and better turnaround of wagons. Similarly some of the Digital Initiatives at home include development of Logistics Planning and Performance Monitoring Tool for real-time monitoring of operational performance and asset utilization of various logistics infrastructure and India Logistics Platform (iLOG) for integrating all logistics related digital portals.

Beyond our borders, India has devoted more resources and assigned greater priority to building connectivity in our immediate neighbourhood. Since 2005-06, India has 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.

Starting from the neighbouring countries, 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. Oil Pipeline from Motihari in India to Alekhgunj in Nepal was inaugurated in 2019. Our efforts in Myanmar include the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit project, India-Myanmar- Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Rhi-Tiddim Road. India is also considering eastward extension of the IMT Highway towards Cambodia, Lao and Vietnam. We are now exploring to build connectivity between Andaman & Nicobar and Sabang in Indonesia and also between Vishakhapattanam, Chennai and Kolkata and Ranong port in Thailand. We intend to establish direct shipping routes between India and Vietnam.

Towards the west, India is developing the Chabahar Port as a gateway for onward connectivity to and from Afghanistan and Central Asia. It has 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 our peoples.

Towards the South, Sri Lanka and Maldives are the focus of our maritime connectivity efforts in the Indo-Pacific Region. In Sri Lanka, India has extended nearly US$ 1.2 billion towards the development of 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. We are also looking to build other infrastructure and connectivity projects in Male.

On the Digital Connectivity front, the launch of the South Asian Satellite by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 2017 was an important step. India’s Digital Connectivity efforts also include the e-VidyaBharati and e-ArogyaBharati Networks in Africa which provide quality tele-education and tele-medicine facility by connecting select Indian universities, institutions and super specialty hospitals to African counterparts.

On multilateral/regional front as member of mechanisms such as the ASEAN, BIMSTEC, Mekong Ganga Cooperation, India is also undertaking various regional connectivity initiatives. We are currently discussing a Coastal Shipping Agreement and Motor Vehicle Agreement in the BIMSTEC format and also in the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) group. We are also working on extending India’s National Knowledge Network to BIMSTEC partners. Cooperation under BBIN is also being discussed in the areas of power and water resources management.

Our efforts to build connectivity can only succeed in synergistic partnership with other countries sharing the same purpose and objectives. And this synergistic partnership was the vision behind Prime Minister Modi’s announcement of Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) in 2019 as an initiative for the countries in the region and beyond to collaborate for security and growth of the region. I am happy that a similar level of ambition, effort and purpose is shared by Japan.

In their Joint Statement issued during the visit of the then Japanese Prime Minister Abe to India in December 2015, India and Japan called for a peaceful, open, equitable, stable and rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, which upholds the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, peaceful settlement of disputes, democracy, human rights, rule of law and freedom of navigation and overflight. Both countries have pledged to work for peace, stability, security and development of the Indo-Pacific region towards 2025 underpinned by these principles.

This joint vision was further highlighted by Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Suga during the Quad Leaders Summit held last week.

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.

Japan has undertaken a number of connectivity initiatives in India. The Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail, the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC), the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, the Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor (CBIC) are all mega projects on anvil. Japan is also partnering in various connectivity projects in Northeast India including the 20 kilometers long four lane bridge between Dhubri in Assam and Phulbari in Meghalaya.

Given Japan’s expertise in 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.

Friends,

This Seminar is a good platform to bring together think tanks, regional experts and other stakeholders to deliberate upon ways and means to enhance connectivity cooperation in the region and related challenges. I hope that the discussions in the event would come up with some useful suggestions and feedback for policymakers for consideration. I look forward to your recommendations. With these words, I wish the event a great success. I am confident that we will see some constructive discussions today.

Thank You !

New Delhi
March 18, 2021

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