On April 5, 2021, Asian Development Bank Country Director Takeo Konishi wrote a letter to Dr Guruprasad Mohapatra, Secretary, Department for Promotion of Industry and Industrial Trade (DPIIT), Ministry of Trade and Industry. The subject was “North East Economic Corridor Study – Workshop with Government Stakeholders”.
Konishi’s letter, a copy of which is with EastMojo, refers to the letter of the DEA dated March 2, 2021 expressing its non-objection to organize workshops in consultation with the line ministries concerned on the conclusions of the ADB study on the development of the Northern Economic Corridor East (NEEC).
The letter also provides, at least in brief, valuable context for the NEEC study. Its conclusions mention the need for a multimodal transport network at three levels: in the North East region (NER); between the NER and the rest of India with an additional means of connectivity via Bangladesh; and with neighboring countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar) to improve South Asia-South East Asia connectivity.
“The results of the study pay particular attention to the economic growth and equitable development of the various NER States and the region. The study identified 24 growth centers and 20 border centers that will drive the development of states according to their potential. The study delves into three key infrastructures – transport, cities and electricity – as catalysts for equitable economic development across states and region, ”the letter adds.
Perhaps the most important findings of the study were that the agriculture and food processing sectors have a comparative production advantage in all TNS states.
“The agricultural products identified are spices, fruits and related activities (cultivation of silk, pork and fish), and the food processing industries are dairy products, beverages, dried fruits and vegetables, between other. For the manufacturing sector, while the oil and gas sector has significant upside potential in Assam, wood-based (bamboo) products are proving to have the appropriate production ecosystem in all states in the region. Rubber processing can be a key manufacturing activity in Tripura, and the cement industry can be further developed in Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland. For the service sector, while the study recommends the NER-wide tourism sector as a key priority, it also identifies the potential for medical tourism to be developed in Assam and Manipur, ”the letter said.
But why are we talking about it?
Because it seems that throughout the letter, discussions and conclusions, the tiny question of Arunachal Pradesh seems to have escaped everyone’s attention. There is absolutely no mention of India’s border state, as if there remains the territorial dispute that China has always claimed to be. In fact, it is well known that China refuses to recognize Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territory and the state sponsored media calls it Southern Tibet. And while the AfDB is doing a great job across India and the North East region (learn more about all of their projects here), he seems too happy to follow the Chinese line and act as if Arunachal Pradesh doesn’t exist, at least not as a part of India.
A 12-year twist to a decades-old problem
I won’t bore you with another lecture on the troubled political history of India and China. The two countries have been at war and have never made it to the top of the best neighbors list (if such a list exists).
Simply put, we trade billions of dollars, we travel to each other’s countries, we eat each other’s cuisine (even though we think Manchurian Gobi is referred to as Chinese cuisine) and every now and then, we reiterate our commitment to solve our problems. But just say the words “Arunachal Pradesh” and agencies like the Asian Development Bank start to squirm and move in their chairs as if they are uncomfortable but too polite to stand up.
To put things in perspective, the issue of the AfDB’s retreat from Arunachal Pradesh dates back to 2009, when China “reportedly blocked consensus at AfDB’s board meeting this month, which approved an Indian plan including $ 60 million in watershed projects for the northeastern state “.
Subsequently, in July of that year, then Indian Foreign Minister HM Krishna said: “China has not approved the strategy of partnership with the country. [CPS] 2009-12 for India on the Board of the Asian Development Bank [ADB] on the grounds that the proposed CPS for India involved technical assistance funding for the Flood and River Erosion Management Project in Arunachal Pradesh, of which China claims to be its territory. The government has made it clear to the Chinese side that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India. The government has also informed the AfDB and all AfDB member countries that have executive directors on its board, including the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Germany and Italy that (i) the PSC is not a political document and does not pass judgment on the legal or other status of any territory; and (ii) China’s political objection is a clear violation of the AfDB Charter which prohibits the Bank from evaluating any proposal for reasons other than economic. “
In short, China objected, India tried to convince ADB, ADB backed down and Arunachal Pradesh paid the price. And he continues to do so.
Such was the AfDB’s fear of China a 2011 report in The Hindu showed that the AfDB “recognizes (d) that it was” a mistake, “according to recently released cables from the US Embassy in Beijing by WikiLeaks. AfDB China Country Director Robert Wihtol told US officials in September 2009 that the Arunachal project that China had opposed had “caused problems for the ADB in China.” And, although Indian diplomats in Beijing told US officials the same month that they believed the project was “still alive” with “terms” worked out by the ADB, bank officials in Manila had assured Beijing that the project “would not come to fruition,” Wihtol said was quoted as saying, “the Hindu report said.
We are in 2021 and even now the position of the AfDB has not changed. We sent a questionnaire to the AfDB to ask a series of questions, almost two days ago. The Bank did not bother to respond.
Why? One can only speculate here, but chances are that the phrase “I really don’t have much to say” is a good guess.
How Arunachal pays
Arunachal Pradesh is a state full of amazing people, breathtaking beauty and breathtaking landscapes. It is a world in its own right, it seems. But what it is not is developed.
According to a 2017 SBI report, Arunachal is 15th among all states on the Human Development Index list by state. The state’s average literacy rate is around 65% according to the 2011 census. The roads in Arunachal Pradesh are so bad that as early as March 2021, the Chief Minister of the State Pema Khandu became the first CM to reach Vijaynagar, the last administrative headquarters near the Myanmar border in Changlang district, by road.
Khandu traveled 157 km in two days, in an all-terrain vehicle. The most endearing image was of the CM himself trying to navigate somehow through what looks like a road, but could very well be a stream. Arunachal Pradesh, like all other northeastern states, could benefit from international aid. Do you remember the objection from 2009? It was not because the AfDB sponsored advanced radar systems for the Indian military. It was on a watershed project.
In fact, as recently as November 2018, Khandu pointed out that China opposes foreign funding of international financial institutions, which in turn wreaks havoc on its economy.
“Arunachal is the only state facing such a blockade of funds weighing on its economy, but it can be overcome by taking advantage of the huge presence of Indian armed forces and central paramilitary forces in the state. The state has the presence of more than two lakh of military and paramilitary forces, which can be seen as a huge market for the sale of local goods and goods ”. Khandu had said.
The fact that no other northeastern state has to deal with this problem shows how difficult it can be for Arunachal administrators.
Now let’s compare what China is building across the Arunachal border.
Earlier this year, reports revealed that China was settling villages not across the border from Arunachal but inside Arunachal. Media reports appeared that “China is said to have built a village on the banks of the Tsari Chu River in the Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh. The village is said to have 101 houses and encroach approximately 4.5 kilometers into Indian territory. The Department of External Affairs said it was keeping an eye on events. When such reports emerged, China responded saying that “Her construction of a village across the Real Line of Control (LAC) in Arunachal Pradesh was ‘flawless’ because she had ‘never recognized’ the Arunachal.”
This is neither an isolated event nor the last of its kind. In fact, one could argue that a village is the least of its worries since a few months later, reports emerged that China had, in fact, approved the controversial hydroelectric project on the Brahmaputra River in Tibet, near the Arunachal Pradesh border, over which India has raised concerns.
As India and Arunachal Pradesh struggle to build roads, China’s investment “across” the border is never-ending. I’m no military expert, of course, but right now the Indian side of the border seems vastly under-prepared for any hostility compared to the Chinese side.
But why blame the AfDB, you might say. Well, on the one hand, they clearly sided with the Chinese government despite an agreement in principle with the Indian government. By not investing in Arunachal all these years, they have denied India and the people of Arunachal a chance for a better life. While the rest of the North East enjoys the benefits of the investments, the people of Arunachal can only sit back and wonder what could have been.