2023 JFIPP Research Fellow - Srabani Roy Choudhury

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Srabani Roy Choudhury

Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

[Project Title]
Japan’s Indo-Pacific Connectivity Agenda : Energising the Bay of Bengal Region

Project Summary

A new dimension to Japan’s connectivity agenda is adding a " value chain approach," which would significantly impact the Bay region and the Indo-Pacific. Japan has associated itself with the Northeast region of India and Bangladesh to enhance connectivity. The new plan is to go beyond the borders and integrate the Bay region with the non-littoral nations into a thriving, prosperous, interconnected zone.

Recognizing the importance of connectivity in promoting regional stability and economic development, Japan has strategically identified and located routes that address both economic and strategic agenda. Differentiating from China, Japan's connectivity initiative is based on quality infrastructure with components of capacity building, digital transformation, and co-creation with the participation of various actors (PPP model).

Due to China's expanding zone of strategic interest, Japan's current agenda of connectivity along with the value chain is therefore pitched for integrating the Northeast region of India to Southeast Asia via Bangladesh, providing an opportunity for cross-border cooperation and economic integration. Fortunately, this aligns well with India’s Act East Policy and Bangladesh’s twin policy initiatives--‘Vision 2021’ and ‘Digital Bangladesh’ envisage Bangladesh becoming a Middle-Income country by 2021 and a developed country by 2041.

The Bay has an issue of silting and requires a deep sea port. Japan has invested in Matarbari Port in Bangladesh along with connectivity infrastructure of highways connecting the entire Bangladesh to the port. By Big B Initiative, Japan visualizes extended connectivity starting in Nepal and Bhutan to the port "a gateway to the Indo-Pacific.” While connectivity is an enabler, energizing the Bay region by establishing industrial hubs in the long stretch of connectivity from Matabari port to that of Nepal and Bhutan would significantly change the eco-system of this region.

The Bay has an issue of silting and requires a deep-sea port. Japan has invested in a deep sea Matarbari Port in Bangladesh with capacity of 600,000 to 1.1 million TEUs.Using the connectivity route would be an economic corridor that creates industrial hubs weaving and embedding sustainable development and ensure utilization of the cargo capacity of the port.However, few enterprises, including those from Japan, are currently interested in investing in Northeast India, and the narrative of the industrial value chain requires exploration.

Japan was involved in a similar exercise when it participated in connectivity projects and the Southern Economic Corridor (SEC) industrialization through the PPP model. Over three thousand plus Japanese companies are positioned between Bangkok and Hanoi. Bay region can benefit from lessons drawn from how Bangkok, Cambodia, and South Vietnam integrated their value chain.

This study will thus address two questions.

  1. 1.What can be the lessons that one can draw from Southern Economic Corridor?
  2. 2.Seek to understand stakeholders' concerns about the industrial value chain of the Northeast region of India and Bangladesh along the corridor.

The research is an exploratory one involving field visit to Bangladesh, Thailand Cambodia and Japan and the looks at disseminating the findings through international conferences, discussions and a book through an international publisher.

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