Imphal: Conveying that the vision of a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific is one of the cornerstone of India’s foreign policy with its geopolitics rapidly taking centre-stage amongst the global strategic community, Union Minister of State for External Affairs & Education Dr RK Ranjan stated that there is a broader agreement that the region is one with great potential, being naturally connected by shared waters and seas, shared civilization and shared values of trust for inclusive growth and development.
In this context , the Bay of Bengal also holds a very strategic and important position, as does the ASEAN region. We, here in the Northeast region, are very very close to both these regions. As such, the North East is a gateway and a portal to the broader Indo-Pacific region, the Union Minister asserted.
He was addressing the inauguration of “North East India and the Bay of Bengal in the Indo-Pacific: Building on Connectivity – The Way Forward” conclave organized by the Asian Confluence and the Policy Planning Division of the Ministry of External Affairs in Agartala on Tuesday.
Dr RK Ranjan stated that the Government of India under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has really focused on creating openings and opportunities for our North East region through its foreign policy initiatives.
In geopolitical terms, we might say that the seven sisters of the North East are the link between two fundamental pillars of our foreign policy – the Neighbourhood First Policy and the Act East Policy, he added.
He maintained that over the last nine years, India’s North East region has seen greater physical connectivity with the rest of India with several highway projects, railway connectivity and air connectivity projects having been successfully accomplished.
This has put the Northeast on the main connectivity grid of India. The Agartala-Akhura railway project, which is in the advanced stage of completion, is a shining example of how development partnerships between Northeast India and our Neighbourhood can usher progress in the region.
He stated that India and Japan are working together through the Act East Forum for promoting connectivity within Northeast India, and also between Northeast India and Southeast Asia.
It has been an important and pro-active forum for sustainable economic development of India’s North Eastern Region, and for enhancing the region’s connectivity with Southeast Asia. This forum has become a robust platform to streamline and accelerate the Japan projects in the Northeast. Japan has been one of the most important development partners for India and Official Development Assistance from Japan has been utilised for various projects, he stated.
The Union Minister stated that India is committed to strengthening its partnership with Japan on key issues such as Trade & Investment, Climate Change, Health Security, Infrastructure, Space, Digital, Industrial Development, Energy, Critical and Emerging Technologies, and Human Resources.
Strong partnership with Japan is a key pillar of India’s Act East Policy. It is a valued partner for our shared vision for the Indo-Pacific. Our policies towards the region are based on the principle of SAGAR (i.e for Security And Growth for All in the Region), and Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, and Japan’s vision of Free and Open Indo-Pacific, he elaborated.
Dr RK Ranjan also observed that today India-Bangladesh partnership is scaling new heights and this relationship enjoys unprecedented levels of trust and confidence. This has resulted in shared commitment towards boosting connectivity for shared prosperity, in both the countries, he added.
With a population of over 21 crore and complementary production base, Bangladesh and India’s North East are much more than just next door neighbours. Being geographically contiguous, they are ‘natural markets’ for each other, he averred.
Northeastern States’ import from Bangladesh is much higher than their export to Bangladesh. In the last financial year, goods worth about Rs. 650 crore were imported from Bangladesh through Agartala-Akhaura trading point. The volume of export was just about Rs. 200 crore. Removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers, developing and modernizing border infrastructure and better connectivity will increase economic opportunities in both countries, he stated.
The Union Minister continued that air connectivity within the Northeast as well as with the rest of India has seen tremendous progress. With international flights now connecting Guwahati with Southeast and South Asia, it is fast becoming an aviation hub for the region, he added.
A holistic approach to provide sea access to our North East also integrating supply chains across the region enhancing economic growth should be our future vision, Dr RK Ranjan noted.
North-East Region is home to approximately 3.8 pc of India’s population. It has about 8 pc of India’s total geographical area, and is strategically important with over 5300 kms. of international border.
He added that in a sense, the North East is the gateway to the Asian century, one which will see dominance of Asian politics and culture, assuming certain demographic and economic trends persist.