Source: Strengthening Regional Transport Connectivity among BCIM Countries by Dr. M. Rahmatullah, Senior Visiting Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Dhaka and Former Director (Transport), UN-ESCAP, Bangkok
The second half of the last century saw the emergence of a number of regional and sub-regional economic cooperative arrangements among countries, across the globe. Maximizing regional security and stability as well as accelerating economic and social development were key factors that promoted the concept of regional cooperation. A realization that no nation big or small, rich or poor can fully realize its potentials in political and economic terms by seeking to work in isolation led to the formation of such regional economic cooperative arrangements.
Such regional cooperation groups were also seen as a necessary response to adverse international economic environment which member states were unable to face individually. The emergence ofWestern Europe as one of the strongest economic forces in the world and the phenomenal growth of ASEAN member states bear testimony to the efficacy of the policy of regional cooperation.
An important aspect of the ongoing globalization process has, therefore, been the increasing integration of national economies, particularly in the economically more dynamic regions/ sub regions of the world. An increasingly integrated transport system at the regional/sub regional levels is, accordingly, essential to facilitate and sustain the economic integration process in today’s interdependent world economy. Being geographically contigeous, it is much easier to strengthen their surface transport connectivity provided the concept enjoys political support. The member countries ofAsiaand the Pacific under the auspicies of UN-ESCAP, have already taken some pioneering steps towards promoting theAsian Highwayand the Trans-Asian Railway routes together with emphasis on facilitation measures for international movement across national borders. Further initiative to strengthen the facilitation measures and transport connectivity among BCIM countries, could be based on this already identified basic network.
In the highly competitive world economy of today, transport cost is a significant determinant of competitiveness, which makes an integrated and efficient surface transport network an essential element for enabling economic integration at any level. The provision of an integrated network is however, a necssary, but not a sufficient condition for efficient international movement. It would be essential to have adequate facilitation measures to ensure that goods and vehicles can move freely across international borders and through countries.
For various historical, political and economic reasons, surface transport networks in several parts ofAsia, including BCIM countries still continues to remain fragmented. As a result, their potential as engines of economic growth at the regional/subregional level remains largely unrealized. This is happening despite the fact that the basic infrastructure and facilities to establish mutually beneficial intra- and inter-regional transport linkages already exist in many countries. It is, therefore, necessary to pursue with the political leadership, in order to bring a change in their mindset, to support the strengthen of transport linkages and facilitation measures for smooth movement of goods and passengers across BCIM countries.
2 Present State of Major Transport Link
Apart from shipping, which currently provides the transport connectivity between the BCIM countries, there are four other modes of transport which have the potential to provide direct linkages between these countries. The present state of these modes of transport in the BCIM countries is indicated below:
A. Regional Road Links:
TheAsian Highway(AH) routes basically provide the road links between BCIM countries. Therefore, the present condition of these routes in the BCIM countries is discussed below. (Please also see Map # 1).
Myanmar:The condition of the road network is not as good as inChina orIndia. The road from Mu-se (Ruili) toMandalay, a distance of451 KM is a double lane bitumen road. The portion from Mu-se to Lashio (166KM) was upgraded by a private company under BOT scheme (under a 30 year lease) and was opened to traffic in 1997. The road fromMandalay to Tamu, on the western border ofMyanmar withIndia is about604 KM long. The section Mandalay- Monywa (80 KM) is a two-lane bitumen road, whereas the section Monywa-Pale-Gangaw (200KM) is single lane bitumen road which is still to be widened to 2 lane. Out of the remaining324 KM , the section between Gangan and Kalemyo (180KM) is partly gravel, but the other section from Kalemyo to Tamu (144KM) is a 2 lane asphaltic concrete road, built by the government of India as a gift to Mynmar, and opened to traffic in February, 2001. On the other side of Tamu is the Indian border town ofMoreh, connected by a bailey bridge over Mahuya creek.
- Bangladesh: The Asian highway routes in Bangladesh are well developed with two lane bituminous surface, mostly of AH standard II. The AH route, after crossing the Jamuna river over the Bangabandhu Bridge, bifurcates into AH routes A1 and A2. A1 goes through Benapole toCalcutta in a SW direction and A2 goes through Banglabandh toNepal in a NW direction. The only problem is the axle load design standard. These roads were designed to carry a load of 8.2 tons per axle, as compared to 12 tons per axle now used for designing road networks in India. As a result some weight restrictions shall have to be imposed in Bangladesh when international movement start along the Asian Highway. Bangladesh has however, revised its axle load standard to 10 tons very recently. But it will take quite sometime to upgrade all roads to that standard.
B. Regional Railway Links:
The railway networks in all the BCIM countries are quite developed within their national boundaries. But, these networks are not connected with each other. Although India and Bangladesh have historic rail links, they are currently in a state of underusage, and direct movement is limited. Myanmar does not have any rail connection as yet with Yunnan (China), India, Bangladesh or even Thailand (See Map # 2). The railway connection between North-East India and Bangladesh used to be there through Kulaura-Shahbajpur Mahisason (India). But this line has since 2002 been defunct due to lack of traffic as well as facilitation measures.
Some of the famous ancient and recent roads which connected China with South Asia, through Myanmar, and India included “Southern Silk Road” as well as “Yunnan – Myanmar Road” built in1930’s and “China – India Road” (Stilwell Road) built in1940’s.
In order to promote regional connectivity between India and China as well as Bangladesh, it is essential to revive and develop the earlier and existing transportation system of this region. Three possible alignments could be pursued:
1. The North route (reviving of the China-India Road): Kunming-Baoshan-Tengchong-Houqiao (China-Myanmar border)-Myitkyina (Myanmar)- Ledo (India).
As indicated earlier, the “China – India road” was built under the direction of General Joe Stilwell of USA during the Second World War. The alignment was Kunming – Baoshan – Tengchong – Houqiao (China – Myanmar border) – Myitkyina (Myanmar) – Ledo (India) (See Map # 3). In short, the road was also known as Ledo road. The total length between Kunming and Ledo is about1736 km. The section Houqiao – Myitkyina – Ledo (India) is passable, but in a very poor state, having mostly a gravel and earth surface. But another portion of120 kmout of Houqiao – Myitkyina section, which is currently having an earth surface is in the process of being upgraded to a class IV road by Myanmar, with the assistance of China, as a BOT project. Another360 kmof Myitkyina – the Pansau Pan (India – Myanmar border) section mostly has a earth surface, except a section of45 kmwhich has a bitumen surface. There is no the bridge on rivers in some of the sections, and the road is at the water crossing level. The remaining42 kmof the Pansau pass – Ledo section (within India) is a 3-class bitumen surface road.
This route, if developed properly could be the shortest possible connection between China and India, but Myanmar has some difficulties with the alignment, as it passes through a security prone area.
This route is the shortest one fromYunnanto eitherDhakaor Kolkata, which is reasonably developed. The route runs across several south-to-north mountain ranges and rivers. This route, however, goes in and out ofIndiatwice, requiring more customs inspection. Along this route,Kunmingis about900 kmfrom Bhamo,2,100 kmfrom Dhaka,2500 kmfromChittagong, and2,600 kmfrom Kolkata (via Lashio andMandalay). Please also see Map-4 and for further details of this route, please see Section A: Regional Road Links.
This route when developed would provide the shortest link throughMyanmar, betweenKunmingandChittagongport. This route also makes it possible to enterBangladeshdirectly through Ma-gway – Minbu-Ann (See Map-5). instead of going throughIndia.
Beyond Ann upto Buthidaung, the road was already under improvement and it passes through Ann – Maruk.
state, through Kyauktaw and Buthidaung which have a very difficult terrain. Certain parts of the route, in fact used the old military road of the Second World War.
Bangladeshhas already decided that linkage would be established through Ramu and Ukhia in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (See Map # 3). The border point would be Gundum opposite Taungbro inMyanmar. The alignment for about80 kmlink road between Taungbro and Buthidaung inMyanmaris still to be finalized by two sides (BangladeshandMyanmar). This southern route should be very useful in promoting trade links betweenBangladeshandMyanmaras well asKunming.
The construction of this route would be relatively easier and would require low investment since it passes through level terrain and coastal area. About 600 kmof this route shall have to be upgraded to 2-lane road. By this route, Kunmingis about 1,400 kmfrom Mandalay, about 2,300 kmfrom Chittagong, about 2,700 kmfrom Dhaka, and about 3,200 kmfrom Kolkata. Please see Map-5.
In order to give a proper shape to this link from Meiklila through Ann to Buthidaung, Government of Myanmar and Yunnan Province of China shall have to set up a “Joint Task Force” to look into the technical and financial aspects.
The present state of transport connectivity and cooperation among BCIM countries is a bit out of step with the global trend towards regionalization. Political impediments, in one of the number countries has been holding the progress. In that context, the country concerned should take some lessons from other sub-regions where all members are enjoying the benefit of economic cooperation.
National transport systems are within the exclusive jurisdiction of sovereign governments. To make progress beyond what has been achieved so far, the member countries shall have to take bold decisions and make further political commitments. In the context of transport connectivity, it is essential to address the issue soonest, otherwise the smaller countries, stand the risk of foregoing many of the economic opportunities that the process of globalization could have provided.
The task that lies ahead for the countries concerned is difficult but not insurmountable, if it is approached one step at a time, by the countries concerned. To this end, serious consideration needs to be given to the actions outlined in section 5.0. What is most crucial, is the political commitment, which should be translated into collective action by the government, the bureaucrats, the private sector and the civil society at large.
- All Aboard: China’s Next Export Is A Trans-Asian High-Speed Railway (fastcompany.com)
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