Phnom Penh-Delhi road link on the cards

The 3,200 Trilateral Highway to the East-West Economic Corridor will allow Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam greater access to India and Bangladesh. ERIA

To strengthen trade, travel and people-to-people contact, a surface transport link with Cambodia and other ASEAN member states is being explored by India. According to reports, a Phnom Penh-Delhi road, formed through an extension of the India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) Trilateral Highway to the East-West Economic Corridor, will help bring Cambodia and other Southeast nations closer to a large Indian market.

The 3,200 km road project will allow Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam greater access to the markets of India’s northeastern region and Bangladesh.

The project received a fresh impetus “during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s four-day India visit, starting September 5 in 2022, Dhaka’s unabated interest on the matter was visible in the ministerial-level discussions,” stated Prarthana Sen, member of the Indian Association for Asian and Pacific Studies in a writeup.

The subject of road connectivity also came up during the ASEAN-India Summit in Phnom Penh in November, where it was agreed upon to give a push to the 1,360-km-long India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) Trilateral Highway for its early completion and take up its eastward extension to Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cambodia and Vietnam.

A joint statement released after the Summit, attended by a high-powered delegation led by India’s Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar, underlined the need to link the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025 and India’s initiatives under its Act East Policy.

The IMT Trilateral Highway could be extended to the $2.5 billion East-West Economic Corridor that further links itself with the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) in Southeast Asia.

According to the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) study, commissioned by India for a feasibility study on the IMT Trilateral Highway’s extension to the East-West Economic Corridor, the possibility of developing a southern route for extension looked more feasible than a northern route.

The southern road route could reach Aranyaprathet on the Thailand-Cambodia border after touching the Thai cities of Mae Sot and Bangkok. The proposed link road would then travel through important Cambodian cities, like Phnom Penh, to Bavet near the international border with Vietnam. In Vietnam, the corridor will connect the Go Dau port and the cities of Ho Chi Minh and Vung Tau.

As per the plan, the northern route could pass through the Shan state of Myanmar, and the Myanmar-Lao PDR Friendship Bridge at Xieng Kok in Laos till Pang Hok, the border crossing between Laos and Vietnam. After entering Vietnam through Tay Trang, the route could connect with the cities of Dien Bien Phu Phong, Hanoi and Hai Phong.

However, the southern road link could also have the benefit of better-developed roads in Thailand since it overlaps with the Greater Mekong Sub-region economic corridors, which is not the case with the northern route, pointed the ERIA study.

Also, the economic returns could be higher in the case of the southern route as the availability of good quality road infrastructure would help lower the total project cost, it added.

“The eastward extension will also reduce time and transportation costs to Myanmar and Thailand, simultaneously opening wide opportunities for exporters
in Bangladesh and India to the unexplored regions of Cambodia and Laos,” Sen stated

Meanwhile, India is undertaking the construction of two sections of the IMT Trilateral Highway in Myanmar – the 120.74 km Kalewa-Yagyi section and the 69 bridges along with the approach road on the 149.70 km Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa (TKK) section.

The linking of the Indian subcontinent with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a fast-growing trade bloc with a combined population of over 660 million and a collective GDP of almost $3.2 trillion in 2019 and ranked as the third largest regional economy in Asia and the fifth largest economy in the world, will prove beneficial to both.

Source: Prakash Jha / Khmer Times