In a strategic move underlining Japan’s Indo-Pacific ambitions, collaborative efforts with India and Bangladesh have been intensified, with a particular focus on the Northeast region of India. This initiative highlights the significant role of the Northeast in Japan’s broader geopolitical strategy, aimed at fostering regional connectivity and economic development.

The partnership between Japan, India, and Bangladesh is deemed “indispensable” for realizing the Indo-Japan alliance, with each country’s strategic significance coming into play. The Northeast region, bordered by key nations including Nepal, Bhutan, China, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, emerges as a critical geostrategic site for strengthening multilateral relations, highlighting its strategic importance for Japan’s Indo-Pacific vision.

Central to this collaboration is the effort to provide the landlocked Northeast region access to the Bay of Bengal and ASEAN countries, thereby unlocking its vast economic potential. Through initiatives such as the India-Japan Act East Forum, Japan is actively involved in adjusting tariffs, enhancing connectivity, and promoting investment, crucially linking India to countries along the Mekong River system.

A key component of Japan’s investment strategy is the Matarbari Deep Seaport project, set to become Bangladesh’s first deep-sea port and a crucial gateway for connecting the landlocked Northeast to global trade routes.

Scheduled for operationalization by 2027, the port promises to catalyze industrial development, particularly in India’s underdeveloped northeastern states, further solidifying Japan’s economic footprint in the region.

Japan’s investment in Northeast India includes various infrastructure projects, including road construction, biodiversity conservation, and forest management. With a commitment of 205.784 billion Yen in 2019 alone, Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) reinforces its dedication to strengthening sustainable growth and environmental stewardship in the region.

Moreover, the establishment of the India-Japan Act East Forum in 2017 signifies a strategic milestone, aiming to streamline collaborative efforts and incentivize investments in the Northeast. Key programs such as the National Highway Network and the Gati Shakti Master Plan are indicative of Japan’s strategic interests in the region, positioning it as a key stakeholder in India’s developmental agenda.

Analysts point out that Japan’s engagement in South Asia, particularly with India, serves as a gateway for broader geopolitical ambitions, extending its influence to other regions such as the Middle East and Africa.

However, it is important to note that more recently it has been outsmarted by China, particularly after the launch of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), of which Bangladesh is a signatory. Therefore, it is expected that with China’s engagement diplomacy as the subtext, Japan will focus on fair development finance on building quality infrastructure development, including undersea cables to far-flung island territories.

Japan-India’s Act East Forum
In 2017, Japan and India initiated the Act East Forum (AEF) with the aim of spearheading economic modernization in India’s Northeastern Region (NER). The AEF identified key areas of focus including connectivity, developmental infrastructure, industrial linkages, and fostering people-to-people contacts through tourism, culture, and sports-related activities.

One of the standout projects under the AEF is the Dhubri-Phulbari bridge project, touted to be the longest river bridge in India. Additionally, sustained forest management initiatives in Tripura and Meghalaya, as well as the development of highways and roads in Meghalaya and Mizoram, highlight Japan and India’s commitment to infrastructural development in the region. Furthermore, biodiversity conservation and forest management projects in Sikkim, along with a forest conservation livelihood project in Nagaland, are among the noteworthy endeavors undertaken through the AEF.

In 2023, Bangladesh, Japan, and India convened in Agartala, Tripura in April to strategize connectivity initiatives aimed at unlocking the commercial potential of the region. Organized by the Asian Confluence in collaboration with the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, the conclave saw the participation of Deputy Foreign Ministers from Bangladesh and India, alongside the Chief Minister of Tripura and the Japanese envoy to India.

A study by the Asian Confluence, a think tank based in Meghalaya, emphasized the need for enhanced multi-modal connectivity between Northeast India and Bangladesh. Such connectivity would not only bolster the region’s competitiveness but also address longstanding developmental disparities.

The study proposed collaborative efforts to streamline trade facilitation and establish express corridors for the seamless transit of goods from northeastern India to Chattogram Port in southern Bangladesh. It also advocated for the establishment of the Japan-Northeast India Chamber of Commerce and a Northeast India–Bangladesh–Japan CEO Forum to bolster investment and business leadership in the region.

MTNews Desk

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