GUWAHATI: External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar has asserted that Assam is the springboard of India's Act East Policy. He said the 'Act East Policy' would be successful only by making Assam the central focus.
Addressing a function on 'Act East Policy and India-Japan Cooperation in North East India with a special focus in Assam' at the Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra premises here on Monday, Dr Jaishankar said that Assam has long been the bridge between India and the countries of the world to the east of India. He added that the State acted as the natural arteries which have facilitated the flow of people, goods, and ideas not just from South East Asia but also from Korea and Japan. The valleys of the Brahamputra and the Barak have acted as a central gateway to that process, he added.
Dr Jaishankar also said that though the birth of nation States after the exit of the British disrupted the process connectivity, the 'Act East Policy' enunciated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi focused on the potential to restore the connectivity, entail increased people-to-people contact, and also boost trade and other relations with the countries located to the eastern side of India— particularly the ASEAN countries.
Delivering his speech on the future of Assam, India and Asia, the External Affairs Minister highlighted that a sound foreign policy can contribute directly to the progress of the nation, region and also of a State.
Stressing that strong cooperation with Japan has made a difference to India, specifically to the development of Assam, Dr Jaishankar said that the 'Act East Policy' must begin by giving the necessary attention and resources to the States in the East and North East. He also said that the 'Act East Policy' is an effort to create infrastructure of connectivity within Assam and the North East as well as beyond to connect the region with India's South East Asian countries, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Japan by roads, seas and air. This has been done to expedite the economic activities between Assam and other north-eastern States with the ASEAN countries and beyond.
Dr Jaishankar further stated that a more-connected Assam will amount to a more-energetic Assam, more-contributory Assam and obviously more-employed Assam. The Minister also said that Assam at present is the recipient of several connectivity projects to stimulate the economic flow leading to strategic cooperation. With regard to cultural and physical aspects for the closer ties between different geographic entities of the ASEAN and beyond, the role of Assam as a spring board needs to be realised, added the Minister.
Dr Jaishankar also said that India shares closer and cordial relations with Japan. With every reciprocal visit between the two countries, the warmth and friendship between India and Japan has increased. The Minister observed that the world has changed profoundly over the last few decades. The new focal points of businesses, demands, consumption have given rise to dictate the mutual interactions of the bilateral relations. The prominent issue is the ability to harness the international partnership of growth and development.
Reiterating Modi government's emphasis on the development of Assam, Dr Jaishankar said that the government at the Centre is constantly encouraging closer ties between Assam and other international States. Speaking on the relations between India with Japan, the Union Minister said that closer India-Japan relations have an important place in the closer economic and social infrastructure. Speaking on the aspects of the bilateral ties on various sectors, which have made a huge success, Dr Jaishankar said that the Suzuki-Maruti joint venture project and the Delhi metro project hold immense significance. Today, the bullet train project from Ahmedabad to Mumbai holds a similar importance, pointed out the Union Minister.
Dr Jaishankar also said that the two countries have been collaborating to advance the skill sets and training. He added that the current agenda contemplates industrial townships, training institutes, and languages centres among others. He also said that during the tenure of Modi government, Japanese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has increased phenomenally. This economic cooperation has assumed a strategic character.
Referring to the conferring of Padma Bibhusan on former Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Dr Jaishankar said that the Indo-Japan relationship in the last decade has been a natural one, adding that it has been reflected in the award and it is symbolic to the closer ties between the two countries.
Speaking on the importance of Assam with regard to the 'Act East Policy', Dr Jaishankar said that Assam has long been the fulcrum of the North East India. This potential can make it a centre of all opportunities that this State will have with its neighbouring nations among others. The Minister also said that Assam can play a crucial role in transport, power, energy and movement of people to mention a few.
Highlighting the Brahmaputra and its potential to make Assam an epicenter of trade and commerce, the External Affairs Minister said that works are going on in full swing to connect Assam to the Bay of Bengal through the Brahmaputra as well as the other major ports of the neighbouring countries. He also said that the Government of India is working to develop the 'Eastern Waterway Connectivity Grid' with the help of World Bank. Work is also underway in Dhubri and Karimganj to make use of such an opportunity, he added.
Stating that surface transport is the pivotal area in Assam, Dr Jaishankar reiterated the Centre's importance to stimulate and bolster Assam's access and reach to other countries by improving the infrastructure of surface transport. The 'India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway' is at an advanced stage. If this is done, the districts of Assam will develop the ability to transport their goods to various regions of its neighbours. Even flight services can be started from the State to bring in more Japanese tourists to Kaziranga.
The Union Minister also dwelt on the Dhubri-Phulbari Bridge over the Brahmaputra with Japan's loan of Rs 1,600 to the project.
Addressing the function, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal termed the day as historic in the development journey of Assam and North East India. He also said that he felt proud to welcome External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar and also Ambassador of Japan to India Satoshi Suzuki to Assam. He added that the presence of both the personalities in Assam would give a renewed push to the 'Act East Policy' and also India-Japan cooperation in the North East.
Japan Ambassador to India Satoshi Suzuki speaking on the occasion expressed his gratitude for its long good and friendly relations with Japan. He said that Japan would not have been in a position to get out of the ashes of destruction caused by World War-II without the help from India.
Health & Finance Minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma said that Assam can play a crucial role in taking the Indo-Japan relations to a great height.
Industry & Commerce Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary also spoke on the occasion. Guwahati Development Minister Siddhartha Bhattacharya, BJP national vice president (in charge of Assam) Baijayant Panda and a host of other dignitaries were present on the occasion.