Bangkok is a familiar hub for Indian air travellers heading east; there are nearly 140 flights a week between Indian cities and Bangkok. India, however, is looking for a more substantive commercial connectivity to Thailand. Before he set out to Tokyo and Bangkok on Monday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh underlined Thailand’s location at the heart of Southeast Asia and its critical importance for India’s Look East Policy.
A highway project linking India with Thailand through Myanmar has been in the works for more than a decade. The plan is to develop a 1400 kilometre road network connecting Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand through Bagan in Myanmar. The trilateral highway will do much to link India’s “land-locked” Northeast to Southeast Asia. While the road will significantly improve the economic prospects of the Northeast, it can’t serve as the main transport corridor between India and Southeast Asia. What India needs is a multi-modal transport system that will link peninsular India to Thailand through Myanmar, and move large volumes of goods and commodities between India and Southeast Asia.
The Thai prime ,inister, Yingluck Shinawatra, has been pushing for precisely such a project, called the Dawei corridor. The $ 8 billion project involves the construction of a deep sea port southern tip of Myanmar. Dawei is barely 250 km west of Bangkok. Besides the deep-sea port, other facilities planned for Dawei include an industrial estate, power plants and petroleum terminals to turn the region into a massive logistical hub. The port, located physically across the Bay of Bengal from Chennai, could serve as a valuable entrepot for India’s trade with Southeast Asia, most of which now moves through the circuitous and crowded Malacca Straits.
The Dawei corridor is expected to figure prominently in the talks between Singh and Yingluck this week in Bangkok. The Dawei project is at the very heart of Yingluck’s hopes to transform Thailand into a transport hub between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. While the Thai cabinet approved the project earlier this month, Bangkok is having problems drumming up international investor support. One reason is the fierce competition among a number of regional infrastructure projects.