Blaming previous Indian governments for “neglecting” the Line of Actual Control (LAC), External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Monday said he had seen first-hand the extent of Chinese infrastructure development from the 2000s on its side of the LAC when he was India’s Ambassador to China (2009-2013).
Mr. Jaishankar presented the government’s recent initiatives in infrastructure-building along the LAC as achievements but also pointed out that one of India’s most ambitious infrastructure projects with Southeast Asia was facing “big challenges” because of the breakdown in Myanmar’s internal security system.
“The problem is that previous governments did not focus on building infrastructure because their thinking was that if they left border areas undeveloped, then it would not facilitate [Chinese troops] to cross over more easily,” he said, in response to a question. “But this was the wrong thinking, because those who wanted to come, came in any way.”
He later clarified that he was referring to Chinese incursions “pre-2014”, and not the more recent ones in 2014 in Demchok as well as the 2020 stand-off in various sectors of the LAC.
Meeting a select gathering of media professionals for a “breakfast meeting”, Mr. Jaishankar highlighted the Trilateral Highway that is aimed at connecting India, Myanmar and Thailand and said parts of the mega project were stuck because of the breakdown in the security structure in Myanmar, where the military junta took charge in February 1, 2021.
He further highlighted border infrastructure initiatives that, he said, have brought major improvements in India’s relation with neighbours like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
“Because of security situation in Myanmar, completing the Trilateral Highway is facing big challenges. We have done half the work and finding it difficult to complete the other half. My border infrastructure is affected by what is happening inside Myanmar,” Mr. Jaishankar said about the four-lane road link that was envisioned to deepen ties between India and the Southeast Asian region.
He explained that the building of the connecting road between Mizoram and the port of Sittwe in Rakhine province and the construction of 69 bridges were not moving forward because of the situation in Myanmar.
Mr. Jaishankar’s remarks about the security situation in Myanmar were aimed at the volatile condition in the Chin and Sagaing regions of Myanmar where several armed resistance groups have declared war against the military junta of Nay Pyi Taw creating hurdles in the path of Indian infrastructure projects.
The senior Cabinet Minister said “easier movement” and connectivity between Nepal and India were creating bigger business opportunities in States such as Uttar Pradesh. “There is a sea change because of infrastructure development on our side with Nepal that will be benefiting all the areas from Uttarakhand to West Bengal.”
The goal of the construction, he said, was aimed at facilitating greater people-to-people contact. He highlighted the Raxaul-Kathmandu rail link project and said it was in the stage of “final location survey”. “Once completed, it will connect Kathmandu to India by train,” Mr. Jaishankar said.
Mr. Jaishankar informed that similar improvements on India’s border with Bhutan was aimed at easier land link that would enhance Bhutan’s ability to attract more tourists. “We are in talks on the rail link between Bhutan and Assam. Bhutan is very keen to open more points for tourists and it is very good for Assam.”
The planned rail connection is the first rail project of Bhutan and is expected to be completed in the next three years. Earlier this year, Foreign Minister Dr. Tandi Dorji said Thimphu would focus on this project and follow it up by connecting with other areas such as Samtse, Phuentsholing, Nganglam and Samdrupjongkhar.