Moreh : India’s Gateway to ASEAN

Dr Jajati K Pattnaik
Moreh which is situated in Tengnoupal district of   Manipur bordering Myanmar could be India’s gateway to the East, whereas Tamu, which is located in the Sagaing Region of North-West Myanmar, bordering Manipur could be the land bridge to cross border economic cooperation for the emergence of free trade architecture in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The Moreh-Tamu land route is a key link to Asian Highways connecting both Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City in Southeast Asia. Herein, Moreh-Singapore (3760.4km)  corridor, linking  Moreh-Mandalay (480.4), Mandalay–Bangkok  (1332.5 km), Bangkok-Kuala Lumpur (1471.7 km) and  Kuala Lumpur-Singapore (475.8 km) through Asian Highway 2( AH2) would connect India’s North East with the Southeast Asian countries in terms of trade, transport, investment, banking, education, tourism, technology and allied services. The second one, Moreh-Ho Chi Minh city (2750.4 km) corridor, linking  Moreh-Mandalay (480.4 km ), Mandalay-Bangkok (1332.5 km), Bangkok-Phnom Penh (707.6km)  and Phnom Penh- Ho Chi Minh City (229.9km)  through Asian  Highway 1(AH 1)  would connect  India’s North East  with Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam  (CLMV)  in multiple ventures. Both the corridors are  quite  feasible  propositions in terms of their cost benefit analysis  as compared to the  trans-shipment of goods to Southeast/East Asia from North East via Kolkata port passing through the narrow  Siliguri corridor. It is also pertinent to mention here that   most of the Asian highway projects of the aforesaid countries are finished except the pending projects in Vietnam. Hence, any such transnational-connectivity corridor involving India’s North East would help in strengthening free trade regime in India’s eastern neighbourhood.
A prime apprehension is that in case the Act East Policy is materialized, India’s North East will be swamped with cheap Chinese goods. This kind of economic threat perception cannot be denied given the nature of easy flow of Chinese goods into the Indian markets.  It is also pertinent to mention here that China has already spread its tentacles in the Southeast Asian countries through several road and rail corridors having deeper economic engagements with them. So, India can dispel such Chinese threat perceptions through increasing cross border trade and connectivity with the ASEAN, and then rightly balance our National interest in Southeast Asia vis-a-vis China. In this connection, it would be noteworthy to point out that special economic zones  should  be developed in  India’s  North East and the potentialities of the region in pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals (2P) + (6H) hydro, herbal, health, horticulture, handicraft and handloom (6H)+(4T) tradition, technology, trade and tourism (4T) should be explored by tapping cross-border  synergies.
Hence, both the Government as well as civil society of India’s North East would have to make conscious and sustained efforts to dispel the lackluster attitude towards investment   and generate a congenial atmosphere for pro-industrial climate and export oriented culture in the region. Otherwise, the overflow of cheap Chinese goods through the third country would adversely affect India’s domestic economy. Thus, Moreh-Singapore /Moreh--Hochi Minh corridor could only be possible when the North Eastern economy of India emerges with specific manufacturing products and earns its  brand image abroad by capturing the neighbouring markets, specifically in ASEAN, subsequently,  securing  as well as augmenting India’s  economic interest in the East.

  (The writer is Associate Professor, Centre for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)