A growing number of influential voices in India are pressing the country's government to revive the Stilwell Road, a World War II-era supply route that once connected northeast India with Kunming through northern Burma, with the goal of increasing India's poor and restive northeast region's business ties with Southeast Asia and China.
The Times of India is reporting that Indian Chamber of Commerce chairman M K Saharia promoted the road's reopening yesterday at a conference held in the city of Guwahati in the northeast Indian state of Assam aimed at promoting regional trade.
Saharia said that a resuscitated Stilwell Road would be the most commercially viable road link with Myanmar, a country where China's influence has grown at a much faster pace than India's in recent years. His push comes just weeks after a retired Governor General of Arunachal Pradesh – also in northeast India – pushed for the road's reopening at a plenary session of the North East Council held in New Delhi.
The 1,700-kilometer (1,000-mile) road, named after US General "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell, who oversaw its construction in 1944, served as a crucial Allied supply route to China in World War II. It connected Kunming with the city of Ledo in Assam, with most of the road passing through northern Myanmar.
China has already rebuilt its 600-kilometer segment into a six-lane expressway and has been assisting Myanmar with construction of its 1,000-kilometer segment of the road. Beijing has been a strong advocate of rebuilding the link all the way to Ledo.
In addition to potentially increasing India's sway in Myanmar and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, a functioning Stilwell Road would create an attractive new channel for goods to flow between India and China and would significantly raise Kunming's regional profile.
Goods hauled between the two countries via the renovated road would take two days to make the trip. Currently, the only transport options are costly air freight or sea routes that pass south of Singapore and through the US-patrolled Malacca Strait. The road's reopening would cut the trip between China and India by 5,000 kilometers.
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