The decision follows a continuing impasse regarding the long-disputed border shared by China and India. Recent talks between the two countries ended with no resolution of border issues and a promise to talk more in the future.
The Stilwell Road is a former World War II supply route built in 1944 under the supervision of US General 'Vinegar' Joe Stilwell. The 1,700-kilometer (1,000-mile) road once connected Kunming with the city of Ledo in Assam state, with most of the road passing through northern Myanmar's Kachin state.
Several prominent officials in Assam state had been pressing for the reopening of the Stilwell Road in recent years, which they had viewed as being a potential source of economic growth which could stabilize India's occasionally restive northeast.
In 2006, more than 10,000 demonstrators demanded that the government reopen the road. Some analysts have estimated that as much as one-fifth of bilateral trade between China and India could pass through a revived Stilwell Road.
In addition to New Delhi's reluctance to reopen the Stilwell Road, the government of Myanmar has been cool to the idea of an international highway passing through Kachin state, much of which is controlled by the Kachin Independence Army, which has had a ceasefire with Myanmar's ruling junta since 1994.
The Chinese portion of the road, which heads westward from Kunming, has been completed for several years. Progress in Myanmar, where more than half of the road is located, has been slow. In 2007, India became the last of the three countries to start work on the road.
The Indian government's reversal of its decision to rebuild the Stilwell Road suggests that despite recent diplomatic breakthroughs between the two Asian powers, there are concerns bubbling beneath the surface. These concerns are likely to include Indian worries about China diverting the Brahmaputra River, Chinese involvement in the arms trade around Assam and China's stance toward Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing calls 'South Tibet'.
Nazeeb Arif, a native of Assam state and former secretary-general of the Indian Chamber of Commerce who is a major proponent of rebuilding the Stilwell Road, told the BBC that trade with China would be a boon to the region's economy, which lags behind much of the rest of the country:
If this road was opened, it would have encouraged Indian industry to invest in production hubs in our under-developed north-eastern states to make goods meant for export to China. Our economies would have thrived.
Although New Delhi's unwillingness to rebuild its portion of the Stilwell Road is a major setback to pan-Asian transport integration, China will likely continue to increase its connectivity with the rest of South Asia, especially Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Earlier this week, the Nepalese government recently approved the launch of direct flights between Kathmandu and Kunming. The thrice-weekly flights will be plied by China Eastern Airlines and will make Kunming the third mainland city after Beijing and Guangzhou to have direct air links with the Nepalese capital.© Copyright 2005-2021 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.