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The Hindustan Times (New Delhi)
November 13, 2000
The Construction of a mere connecting link may not normally warrant the
presence of six ministers representing as many countries of the region.
But the proposed Mekong-Ganga connection is clearly no ordinary project.
So it was that the Vientiane Declaration issued at its launching in the
Laotian capital last Friday drew pointed attention to several spin-offs
from this multi-nation enterprise. Extending all the way from India to
Vietnam through Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, the proposed
highway will set up import linkages with Kuala Lumpur and Dhaka as well.
This East-West corridor is expected to provide an unprecedented impetus
to the promotion of trade, tourism and communications between the
countries which it will connect.
Without in any way belittling the role which the project is expected to
play in promoting physical contacts between the six countries of the
South and South East Asian region, the symbolic meaning of connecting
the two great river basins can hardly be missed. There is little doubt
that this trans-Asian link will help revive the kind of social, economic
and cultural contacts which existed between India and the people of the
?Indo-China? region several centuries ago. In the more immediate
context, it may not be unreasonable to hope that the expansion of these
contacts will provide an impetus to the SAARC, which has been beset with
a persisting impasse that refuses to transcend the differences between
its two largest members, In any case, Bhutan and Nepal, apart form
Bangladesh, will be the other immediate beneficiaries of this novel
The Mekong-Ganga project must be seen as yet another offshoot of the
policy of increasingly looking towards the East which New Delhi has
pursued since the early Nineties. President K.R. Narayanan?s current
visit to Singapore and Prime Minister Vajpayee?s forthcoming visiting to
Vietnam form a part of the same policy initiative. Analysts have at
times tried to figure out how China will see the project. Several
participating countries, including India and Laos, have made it clear
that it is not directed against ?anyone?. The mere fact of developing a
network of linkages involving so many countries should itself prove to
be an important factor in promoting peace and stability in the region,
which should be an additional reason for welcoming it.