Shringla referred to the gains made by Myanmar over the last decades on the path towards democracy and said India has always been steadfast in its support to the process of democratic transition in the country for it to emerge as a stable democratic federal union.
Majorly focusing on India’s priorities for the neighbourhood, Shringla underlined the need for improving regional connectivity to further higher economic growth and even spoke about the possibility of railway link from India to Myanmar and further to Thailand, Laos, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
“The stability, growth and prosperity of those nearest to us will help India and is in India’s interest. The neighbourhood has therefore received the greatest attention and emphasis in our diplomatic efforts and will continue to do so,” he said at the online discussion at Ananta Aspen Centre.
Talking about India’s development assistance to the neighbouring countries, Shringla said its lines of credit to the neighbours have jumped from USD 3.27 billion in 2014 to USD 14.7 billion in 2020.
“The question of whether economics drives politics – or the converse – is frequently discussed. The Neighbourhood First policy emphasizes both,” he said.
The foreign secretary also said the volume of total trade with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka has increased from USD 19.44 billion to USD 26.455 billion in the last six years.
“Greater economic integration within regions has been known to produce a whole that is larger than the sum of parts. Our policies in the region therefore lay the greatest emphasis on augmenting connectivity — physical, economic, energy, digital or even cultural,” he said.
“We believe that this will amongst other things induce a virtuous cycle in which connectivity and growth feed each other,” he added.
Shringla said development must go hand-in-hand with the development of India’s neighbours.
“This is not only politically sound, from the point of view of relations between states, but economically expedient. An inter-connected region with higher economic growth fosters trade and investment opportunities that offer the region a win-win situation,” he said.
On Pakistan, he said any meaningful dialogue can only be held in a conducive atmosphere and the onus is on Pakistan to create such an atmosphere.
Referring to Myanmar, Shringla said India has been steadfast in its support to the process of democratic transition in that country.
“Our developmental and humanitarian efforts in Myanmar have been aimed at the socio-economic development of the country. We need to continue with these efforts in the interest of the people of Myanmar. We feel that people on the ground should not suffer,” he said.
“India will continue to closely monitor the situation and remain engaged with like-minded countries to meet the hopes and aspirations of the people of the country. The international community must work together and lend its meaningful support at this critical juncture, so that the people of Myanmar do not suffer,” he said.
On enhancing regional transport links, Shringla mentioned the proposed Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) connectivity initiative and said it can, through Myanmar, provide a link to East and South East Asia.
“Future plans to enhance connectivity include extending the trilateral highway to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Railways that link India and Myanmar and further to Thailand, Laos, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh are all in the realm of possibility,” he said.
The India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway project is being implemented.
Shringla also spoke about the need for regional energy cooperation.
“We understand that geography and the distribution of resources can be leveraged for greater integration and we are working assiduously to promote the sub-region comprising Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and India as well as Sri Lanka as an energy hub,” he said.