In recent years, the relationship between Asian giants China and India has gradually shifted from vocal distrust to guarded optimism. With the political thaw between the two countries, an economic relationship has grown rapidly – in 2002 bilateral trade was a mere US$2 billion, last year that number surpassed US$51 billion.
As China and India continue to open up to each other, the lack of sufficient transportation links is hampering trade and tourism. With both countries eager to increase interconnectivity, Kunming is emerging as China's de facto gateway to India.
Beginning in June, China Eastern Airlines will increase its flight services between Kunming and Kolkata, capital of eastern India's West Bengal state, from four to seven flights weekly, according to Indian media reports.
Li Ji, general manager of China Eastern's Kolkata operations, told reporters in India that more flights will be added to the Shanghai-New Delhi route, which currently has only three flights weekly.
Li said increasing tourism between the two countries was the driving force behind the decision to increase flight services. At present, China Eastern flights between the two countries have full occupancy, he added.
Local politics in India, particularly the country's occasionally restive northeast, are also beginning to focus on increasing connectivity with Kunming. MP and parliamentary election candidate Sarbananda Sonowal, from Assam state's Dibrugarh constituency in the Lok Sabha (LS) – India's directly elected lower house of parliament – has become one of India's most vocal proponents of a road to Kunming.
Sonowal has been arguing for a reopening of the Stilwell Road, a former World War II supply route built in 1944 under the supervision of US General 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.
Rather than serving as a military supply road, Sonowal imagines a resuscitated Stilwell Road as becoming a new channel for trade between India and China. China's portion of the road – all of it located in Yunnan – has already been upgraded to a modern six-lane expressway.
The main obstacles to the road's revival have been the fact that it passes through Myanmar's politically volatile north, plus a general reluctance by the Indian government, which has voiced security and drug trafficking concerns about the road in the recent past.
"The reopening of Stilwell Road is important not only for people of ... Dibrugarh LS constituency, but also for entire (Indian) northeast, as it would re-establish this region's old trade links with China and other countries in Southeast Asia," Sonowal recently told Indian reporters.
Goods transported between India and China via a new Stilwell Road would take two days to make the trip. At present, sea cargo between the two countries must pass south of Singapore and through the Malacca Strait. Reopening the Stilwell Road would cut the distance between China and India by 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles).© Copyright 2005-2021 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.