Reopen Stilwell Road as gateway to SE Asia: Northeast CMs
Guwahati, July 5 (IANS) Regional heads in India's northeast have urged the central government to reopen the historic World War II Stilwell Road, linking the region with China via Myanmar to boost trade with southeast Asia.
'There is no second opinion among the regional heads of the northeastern region to allow this legendary road to reopen,' Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS in an interview.
'We hope the central government takes steps to make this dream of the people turn into a reality which in turn would boost trade and commerce.'
The 1,726-km-long Stilwell Road was a vital lifeline for the movement of troops of the Allied Forces during World War II to free China from Japanese occupation. It starts in Assam and cuts through the Pangsau pass in Myanmar to Kunming in South China. It touches almost all the important Southeast Asian capitals.
The road was built by Chinese labourers, Indian soldiers and American engineers, and named after American General Joseph Stilwell who led the task and completed it in 1945 after three years of hard work.
The Stilwell Road on the Indian side is about 61 km. The major stretch of 1,033 km lies within Myanmar, while the Stilwell Road in China is 632 km.
China has completed constructing its stretch of the Stilwell Road. 'The road on the Assam side is in good shape and the only hindrance is from Myanmar as the road on their side is not complete. The Indian government needs to convince Myanmar to help rebuild the road on their side,' Gogoi said.
'Myanmar is keen to rebuild the road but the major hindrance for them is funds and other resources,' an Indian foreign ministry official told IANS, not wishing to be identified.
The state governments in the northeast agree that the Stilwell Road would bring economic prosperity to the underdeveloped region.
'Free trade with Southeast Asian countries and India's northeast would be possible only with the reopening of Stilwell Road,' Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh told IANS.
'Our region would then have the potential to become the hub of business activities and the gateway to Southeast Asia.'
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had earlier said his government was keen on furthering the country's 'Look East Policy' aimed at allowing border trade with Southeast Asian nations.
Indian automobile components, fruits, grain, vegetables, textiles and cotton yarn find a strong demand in almost all these countries.
In the other direction, Indian traders are strongly interested in importing electronic gadgets, synthetic blankets, teak, gold, and semi-precious stones. Assam, the gateway to the northeast, is about 2,000 km from New Delhi and some 3,000 km from the country's biggest commercial centre, Mumbai.
Yangon, Bangkok and even some Chinese cities are much closer to most northeastern states than Delhi or Mumbai. For instance, Kunming in China is only 1,726 km from Ledo in Assam where the Stilwell Road begins.
Pushing for road links to Southeast Asia, the northeastern leaders have pointed out that only 250 km out of the region's 5,000 km outer perimeter touches India. The remaining 4,750 km represents international boundaries with China, Myanmar, Bhutan, Bangladesh, China and Nepal.
(Zarir Hussain can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)