Modi suggests a 12-point cooperation plan with ASEAN nations.

During the Asean-India Summit in Indonesia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi put forth a comprehensive 12-point plan aimed at strengthening ties with Asean countries. A significant component of this proposal is the creation of a ‘multi-modal connectivity and economic corridor’ that would interlink Southeast Asia, India, West Asia, and Europe. This idea bears some resemblance to China’s expansive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which seeks to develop extensive infrastructure and connectivity across numerous nations to boost economic development and secure trade routes. However, it’s essential to note that Modi’s proposal is less ambitious than the BRI, which involves over 100 countries.

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This proposal reflects India’s keen interest in assuming a more active role in the region, capitalizing on its growing economic and political influence, and positioning itself at the heart of the global supply chain.

The emphasis on establishing new trade routes to Europe, West Asia, and Southeast Asia aligns with India’s strengthening economic connections with these regions. India’s trade with the European Union ranks it as the third-largest trading partner, and bilateral trade between India and Asean reached $131.5 billion in 2022-23.

India has previously engaged in significant connectivity projects to link itself with global markets. For instance, in 2000, India signed an agreement to develop the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) in collaboration with Iran and Russia. The INSTC was designed as a multi-modal route stretching from Mumbai in India to Bandar Abbas and Bandar-e-Anzali in Iran, then extending across the Caspian Sea to Astrakhan, Moscow, and St. Petersburg in Russia. This corridor was intended to facilitate the movement of Indian goods to Central Asian and European markets. However, the INSTC faced multiple delays and challenges, including international sanctions on Iran due to its nuclear program.

In recent years, there has been renewed interest in the INSTC project, especially after Modi’s call to include Iran’s Chabahar Port, which India is assisting in developing, as part of this corridor.

India is also reportedly engaged in ambitious connectivity plans to its west. Discussions have taken place regarding rail lines connecting India, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, ultimately linked through sea lanes, although this project is still in the planning stages.

To the east, India is part of an initiative to construct a highway connecting the country to Myanmar and Thailand, a project initially proposed in 2002. However, the project has encountered delays, with expectations for it to become operational by 2019, although complications in Myanmar have posed significant challenges. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has emphasized the need to find ways to resume and complete this project, given that substantial portions have already been built.

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