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Mekong-Ganga project signed, boost

Mekong-Ganga project signed, boost to Asean economic ties

>From The Hindustan Times newspaper, dated November 11, 2000

By Shishir Gupta
(Vientiane (Laos), November 10)

THE ASIAN highway project today crossed a major hurdle with the
ministers of five ASEAN countries and India agreeing to develop
east-west transportation corridor under the umbrella of the newly
launched Mekong-Ganga Cooperation grouping.

The ministers of India, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Lao PDR
signed the Vientiane Declaration, which outlines the basic theme of
Cooperation and charts the future course for rapid economic development
of the Mekong region countries.

It is learnt that the name of initiative was changed from Ganga-Mekong
Swarnabhoomi project to Mekong-Ganga Cooperation at the last moment
following discussion between ministers of the participating countries.

With this India has extended its footprints into the ASEAN region under
the geo-strategic backdrop. By exploiting the historically driven
natural connectivity, India has added powerful cultural dimension to its
economic diplomacy by encouraging business contacts between the people
residing on the banks of Mekong and Ganga.

This particular track using cultural, education and communication ties
to set an agenda for economic and political cooperation is expected to
be India's effort to achieve the same but at its own leisurely pace.

The Vientiane Declaration calls for efforts to promote new linkages in
knowledge-based sectors as well as in old economy areas like transport
corridors and infrastructure development. The linkages between India and
these countries of Indo-China region over land will also give New Delhi
an opportunity to speed up economic development of its North-East

When completed the Asian highway project is expected to link up
Singapore with New Delhi in South Asia via Kuala Lampur, Ho Chin Minh
city, Phon Penh, Bangkok, Vientiane, Chiang Mai, Yangon, Mandalay,
Kalemyo, Tamu, Dhaka and Calcutta. India has already taken the first
step in this direction and is involved in building the road linking Tamu
(Manipur) to Kalemyo, a key communication junction in the centre of

Tourism Minister of Myanmar, Major General Saw Lwin told the inaugural
meeting this afternoon that his country was "prepared to pave our way as
a strategic gateway to Indian subcontinent." He said: "Myanmar was also
aware of its ideal strategic location linking India and Mekong river
basin areas, particularly along the overland route."

Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh told the ministerial group that
the Ganga-Mekong cooperation could reap "tangible economic and social
gains motivated by profits and benefits."

However, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Nein pointed out that a
majority of population living in the Ganga-Mekong region survived with
income of less that two US dollars a day and that the Indo-China region
was one of the poorest regions of South-East Asia.

Acknowledging the hurdles ahead for this fledgling grouping, the
ministerial group has set no time frame for project implementation for
the present. However, the GMC group has appointed a committee of Laos,
Myanma and senior officials of remaining member countries to chart a
roadmap or action plan for the future.

Host country Laos will be heading the GMC group with the six ministers
deciding to rotate the chairmanship alphabetically. According to Lao
Foreign Minister Somsavat Lengsavad, the ministerial group will meet
annually and after the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting/ Post Ministerial
Conference. The six ministers are expected to meet in Hanoi in July