Promising Collaboration with ASEAN Countries: A Way Forward
By Dr. C. Joshua Thomas
The Kolkata Dialogue 2018 comes at an appropriate moment in the development of North-East India when rapid change is occurring in the region and in its neighbourhood, particularly with ASEAN countries with the participation of multiple actors such as the Central and State governments, the private sectors and the people of the region and the various agencies like ICC and the emergence of a number of regional and sub-regional initiatives.
I have been asked to speak on Make in North-East: Possible Collaboration with ASEAN Countries. There has been a strong desire among the politico and business leaders that the “Make in India” campaign of the Government of India should be integrated with “Make in North-East.”
Given the distinct comparative advantage of North-East there are many complementariness with ASEAN that can be potentially exploited for mutual benefit. The fact that these two regions hare close cultural ties can only aid the development of strong bilateral and business relations. This cultural capital can engender a whole era of production in terms of jewellery, attire, food and many more as northeast has the potential and even the needed workmanship. This cultural similarities can promote native cultural festivals showcasing the variance in the dance even as simple as the bamboo dance which is also poular in ASEAN nations. This will also helping in building cooperative research and educational potential. Given the climate of Shillong it can be turned into an educational hub catering to greater cooperation with ASEAN. Such a venture will helping in many start up business.
There is a great deal of discussion on the word connectivity in the context of North-East with its neighbourhood and extended neighbourhood. Connectivity takes at least five different areas, such as: physical connectivity, trade connectivity, transport connectivity, telecommunication & digital connectivity, and cultural connectivity. When we speak on the possible collaboration with ASEAN countries for the successful make in North-East – we need to improve the connectivity aspect in the above mentioned all the sectors in a holistic manner. The road connectivity along with the possibility of driving across will enhance this cooperation and easy movements for value added products.
Recently, a celebrated Indian diplomat argued that the need of the hour for the regional cooperation is “diplomacy for development.” Taking a cue from this, we may think of the following diplomacy for the possible collaboration with the ASEAN countries in “Make in North-East” programme.
I.Agro Diplomacy: All the eight States in the North-East are having strong agricultural base. In this regard it is worth mention about the Government of Meghalaya which has taken a lead step in introducing the following initiatives on Mission mode: Bamboo mission, mushroom mission, Turmeric (Lakadong) mission, Jack fruit mission, Organic mission, Horticulture & floriculture mission, Honeybee mission and Banana mission. All these different mission initiatives have great potential to export to ASEAN countries. Recently, the Chief Minister of Meghalaya while inaugurating the jackfruit mission had highlighted that Vietnam has done extensive work in jackfruit processing and exporting work and if Meghalaya could collaborate with Vietnam, we can reap a great benefit for the State. Further. Rupert Momin, the MLA from the Karkuta constituency in the Garo Hills District informed the author that the whole of Karkuta area produces a large quantity of banana which is exported to the States in North India. He says, at least 15-20 truck load of banana exported on an everyday basis.
Apart from the above mentioned missions, there is a great potential for pineapple, ginger, black pepper, beetle nut, exotic vegetables, traditional medicinal plant which are in abundant quantity and needed to explored to have export potential the ASEAN countries. Recently, the government of Meghalaya, has opened a Directorate of Food Processing in the State to harness the potential for exporting from the State. In the similar way, each of the States in the region has many success stories in the Agro Diplomacy, in the case of Assam, tea; in the case of Tripura, bamboo, cane, rubber; in the case of Manipur, Arunachal and Sikkim, orange, orchid, and flowers which can be potential items for export to ASEAN countries.
II. Tourism Diplomacy: Contact between the ASEAN countries people and rediscovering roots should cement the region as a whole. Tourism can be a major key to melting the ice between these two regions. Government of India has dedicated 2019 Year of Tourism. When we think of tourism, there are a number of areas which we can think of, such as, adventure tourism, youth tourism, heritage tourism, eco tourism, ethnic tourism, wildlife tourism, trekking tourism, cave tourism, and medical tourism. Religious tourism will certainly play a big role between NE India and ASEAN. The Buddhist circuit in Nalanda has been visited by a large number of tourists from Thailand and Myanmar; however, Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh has been ignored for a long time. Tawang Buddhist monastery is the oldest and the most important monastery. Added to this we may think of the largest river island in the world – Majuli in Assam; war tourism, such as the second world war famous areas such as Kohima, Onakuti, Governament Museum in Tripura and the Stilwell road may be centre of attraction for the tourist from the ASEAN countries. To attract more tourists from ASEAN countries, we need to simplify our visa regime and for this both the MEA and MHA needs to bring out some workable models which will attract our ASEAN neighbours.
Traditional sports completion can be another possible attractionif it can be organized regularly to have closer ties with ASEAN.
III. Festival Diplomacy: North-East is a land of festival. All the eight States in the region has plenty to offer on festival diplomacy. For instance, Cherry Blossom festival in Shillong, Horn bill festival in Kohima, Sanghai festival in Imphal attracts a lot of people from other countries. Cultural diplomacy of the region has a great potential to enhance and complement the ease of doing trade between the States of the region and the ASEAN. The North Eastern Council (NEC) recently organised Namaste Kathmandu, showcasing the cultural diversity of North-East at Kathmandu in Nepal, which was a grand success. The NEC with the help of the ministries like the External Affairs ministry, DoNER ministry can have similar events in all the 10 ASEAN countries. Added to this we may consider to have Food Festival, Music Festival, Film Festival, Art & Craft Festival and Sports Festival. Sports play a vital role among the youth. In this regard, we may learn a lesson from China. The Yunnan Provincial government at Kunming organises every year, China-South & South East Asia Sports Festival for the college and university students. Couple of years ago students from St.Anthony’s College participated in this event for the football game. They reached the finals, but the Thailand team defeated them, however, they brought runner up trophy!
IV. Educational Diplomacy: Education and language plays a significant role in the ASEAN& India relations. Though India and the ASEAN countries are so near, yet we don’t understand each one’s language and culture. There is a need to have exchange of scholars, joint research projects, organising conferences and seminars between the Universities, Think-Tanks of NE India and ASEAN and also there is a need to have institutional linkages. The Ministry of External Affairs, has given unspecified number of scholarship for integrated courses in several universities in India to the ASEAN students, yet, we need to think of providing special provision for the ASEAN students in the NITs, IIT and IIM in the region; certainly, these students will be Ambassadors for the NE region in their own country once they receive their education in the region.
V. Institutional Diplomacy: Vibrant institutional collaboration between primer institutions, Think-Tanks in all the 10 ASEAN countries along with 8 States in NE will definitely enhance our understanding of each other and make in NE on a stronger foothold. ICSSR has MoA with the institutes in Thailand and similar MoA can be extended to all the other nine countries in ASEAN.
For the Make in NE concept to be successful in the context of India’s Act East Policy:
1) It is critical to invest in the entrepreneurial potentialities and human resources of India’s North-East;
2) It is also important to identify the top industrial and trading items from within the region which can be integrated with the markets of South East Asia, as India and ASEAN has a free trade agreement;
3) Some of the top marketable industries such as, handloom industry, herbs and spices, tea products and other agricultural products, human resources, etc., needs to identified;
4) Border trade between NEI and SEA through CLMV countries needs to be strengthened by strengthening the mode of doing business;
5) Border security should complement and ease trade and People to People contact, as one of the common complaint among the traders from Manipur is the number of check points that need to go through inorder to reach Myanmar;
6) It is also important to encourage public-private partnership in doing business as most of the land revenues of the region are specially protected;
7) Till date we have more informal than formal trade across the border with Myanmar, China and Bangladesh and on the other hand our Land Custom Stations are yet to reach a scale where States can earn adequate revenues from border trade;
8) The trade policy now needs to be re-configurated looking at the strength and weakness of each State and greater public participation is a must;
9) During February 2018, the Ministry of DoNER and the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India sponsored Advantage Assam an international trade-business event to attract investment in the North-East, an amount of 32 crores were spent for this mega event, high level representatives from 23 countries, including all the 10 ASEAN countries participated the event, but from NE only 3 Chief Ministers attended the event – Assam, Manipur & Arunachal Pradesh -, a closer scrutiny of the event shows that an event like this should have North-East Advantage instead of Assam Advantage, all the States must have equal share and they should walk and lead the event together.
Last but not the least, the Yunnan Provincial government at Kunming organises an annual international event under the rubric “China-South and South East Asia Expo” attracting huge participation from South and South East Asia, is an eye opener for the possible collaboration between NEI and ASEAN and make the “Make in North-East” a grand success!
(Dr. C. Joshua Thomas is Deputy Director, ICSSR-NERC & Coordinator, ASEAN Studies Centre NEHU Campus, Shillong 793 022; Email: email@example.com)
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