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Ministry of External Affairs of the Republic of India

03/05/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 03/05/2021 01:40

Foreign Secretary’s Address at the Inaugural Session of the Dialogue on ‘Development of North Eastern Indian Region: Indo-Japan Collaboration for Connectivity, Commerce,[...]

It gives me great pleasure to address the dialogue on a theme of particular interest, the 'Development of North Eastern Indian Region: Indo-Japan Collaboration for Connectivity, Commerce, Capacity Building, Culture and Conservation'.

2. I felicitate the Asian Confluence, in general, and its Executive Director, Shri Sabyasachi Dutta, in particular, for hosting this important dialogue in collaboration with the Embassy of Japan in India. The Asian Confluence has built a reputation as a serious and capable organisation with a growing body of work that highlights international connections with particular focus on the northeastern part of our country.

3. I am happy that the inaugural session of the dialogue will be addressed by Ambassador Satoshi Suzuki, a very distinguished and able diplomat. My warm greetings also to the Chair of the session, Shri M. P. Bezbarurah, Chairman of the Governing Council of Asian Confluence.

4. The theme of this dialogue is relevant and timely.

5. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has said that the 'North East has the potential to become the growth engine of the country. The mantra of peace, progress and prosperity is echoing here.'

6. The North East is rich in resources. It is blessed with abundant biodiversity, with potential for agriculture, with hydropower reserves, with a high quality talent pool - and above all with an excellent location. It is a region that has the potential to become a driver for growth and connectivity not just for India but for its extended neighborhood.

7. In 2016, Prime Minister said, and I quote, 'My Government has been proactively following the 'Act East Policy'. I consider the North Eastern Region as the Gateway to South-East Asia. As part of this policy, it is our mission to upgrade the infrastructure in Road, Rail, Telecom, Power and Waterways in the region.'

8. Upgrading infrastructure in the region is key to realizing this vision.

9. It is also subsumed in our wider vision for the North Eastern region which can be described as the 3 Cs - Connectivity, Commerce, and Cultural Commonalities.

10. Large investments have been made in enhancing connectivity through road, rail, air and inland waterway projects. Thousands of kilometers of roads are being built. Bridges have been built. The railway network is being significantly expanded. Intermodal transport linkages that will leverage the Brahmaputra and Barak rivers are being created.

11. The accelerated road development program is supplemented by efforts to improve aviation infrastructure and capacity.

12. Connectivity will spur commerce if an enabling framework is built.

13. Cyber and telecom connectivity have been enhanced in the region to aid ease of doing business.

14. Educational institutes and centers that will upskill the people of this region have been created. The North East today has a network of educational centers of excellence, of new medical and technology colleges as well as livelihood and skilling institutes.

15. These major projects are accompanied by a whole of government effort that is committing resources in a range of sectors such as tribal and minority welfare; promotion of organic farming; power grids; drinking water; and pensions and social support schemes.

16. The North East connects us to our neighbours and to one of the most economically dynamic and politically significant geographies of the world - the ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific.

17. Speaking in 2020, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the 'North Eastern region has a very high priority in Government's Developmental agenda. Government is ensuring smooth access to financial assistance from multilateral and bilateral funding agencies to help introduce innovative and global best practices.'

18. It is therefore logical that we have chosen to work with one of our most valuable partners, Japan, for the development of this area.

19. Our relations with Japan have acquired the dimensions of a Special Strategic and Global Partnership, firmly rooted in history and based on common values.

20. India has an Annual Summit as well as a 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministerial Dialogue with Japan. The signing, in September 2020, of the Reciprocal Provision of Supplies and Services (also called ACSA) Agreement is a landmark. We have similarities in our respective visions for the Indo-Pacific.

21. Japan is the fourth largest investor in India. The number of Japanese companies in India has been increasing steadily. More than 1400 of them are present in India currently.

22. Japanese ODA is deployed over sectors ranging from healthcare to sustainable development. The audience I am sure is aware of projects such as the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Railway. Japan and India are working together on several projects in agriculture, food processing, healthcare, digital partnership, skill development, sports, and outer space.

23. It is no surprise that External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar has recently stated that closer India-Japan collaboration has always had a central role in India's national modernisation efforts. He has said, and I quote, 'Japan has long been involved in the expansion of our economic and social infrastructure.'

24. We are today discussing one of the unique characters of this relationship. It is the work that India and Japan have done together in the North East.

25. Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minster Abe established the India-Japan Act East Forum in 2017 to coordinate joint efforts for the overall development of the region. The initiative aims to enhance connectivity between our North East Region and South East Asia and Bangladesh.

26. Five meetings of Act East Forum have so far been held. I have had, at its most recent meeting on 28 January 2021, the opportunity to discuss various on-going projects with Ambassador Suzuki.

27. Four road connectivity projects are underway in various parts of the North East. Roads are being augmented in Mizoram, Meghalaya and in Tripura. The longest bridge in the country across the Brahmaputra in Dhubri in Assam is being constructed with Japanese support. Japan is also helping us modernize the Umiam-Umtru Hydroelectric Power Station in Meghalaya and with the Guwahati Water Supply and Guwahati Sewerage Project. The forward looking and holistic aspect of this partnership is visible in projects with the forest department in the states of Sikkim, Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya to conserve biodiversity,strengthen forestry management, and improve local incomes.

28. We also utilize the Act East Forum to share best practices, and explore new avenues of cooperation. Healthcare, skill development, and sustainable development are some promising areas.

29. I would like to use this forum to point out some emerging trends on regional connectivity in countries bordering the North East. Indian development partnership supports a number of projects that promote regional integration.

30. Projects involving our neighbours adjoining the North East, such as Bangladesh, Bhutan,and Myanmar, are slowly but surely bringing us closer together.

31. A good example of the efforts in this direction is the augmentation of rail connectivity between India and Bangladesh. Intermodal transport linkages and inland waterways through Bangladesh are also being expanded.

32. Movement of goods and people is now much easier than in the past.

33. Other flagship projects with Myanmar include the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project and the Trilateral Highway Project connecting the North East with Myanmar and Thailand.

34. The COVID pandemic has generated severe economic stresses and fundamentally altered geopolitical and geoeconomic equations.

35. Our Prime Minister has, in this context, given a call for an Atmanirbhar Bharat. He has communicated a soaring vision of an India that is at the nerve center of global chains and an India that links the local to the global.

36. We are, within this broader environment, in conversations with partners such as Japan to construct resilient and reliable value chains in a post-pandemic world.

37. Japan is a powerhouse of ideas and entrepreneurial energy. It is a valuable partner for us in our efforts to navigate the vagaries of the post-pandemic international system and in generating new opportunities for cooperative endeavour in all areas of India including the North East.

38. I would like to end by expressing the hope that events such as this will draw attention to the changes that are slowly occurring in this region and to emerging opportunities.

39. I also hope that it will spur innovation and ideas that will place the North East on the path to realize its innate and evident potential and be a driver for connectivity and growth.
Thank you.