ibnlive » India

Jun 30, 2011 at 11:12am IST

Stilwell Road: Indo-China road to peace?

Kunming, Yunnan province: Bilateral relations between India and China have often been a bumpy ride. But these days, the Chinese are pinning their hopes on the reopening of a road to improve their relations with India.

The Stilwell Road was built during World War II and the Indo-China relations can get a shot in the arm with the reopening of the road.

During World War II, 63,000 workers built the 1,736 km long road - the Ledo Road, renamed the Stilwell Road from Assam in north-east India to Yunnan province in South Western China via Burma. It was used by the British, Chinese and Indian armies to transport supplies, troops and other essentials from India to Burma and prevent the march of the Japanese army. After the war, the road fell into disuse.

The Stillwell Road culminates in Kunming in Southwestern China. And leaders here have genuinely started believing that reopening the Stilwell Road could result in unimaginable gains - both to India and China - not just in terms of trade but the relationship between the two countries.

"Yunnan enjoys historical ties with India and this road will revive those ties and make our relationship stronger," said Zhang Tianxin, Member, Communist Party of China, Yunnan Province.

A Chinese company has already built a 312 km stretch through Burma, which had initially opposed the reopening of the Stilwell Road.

The road would reduce transport costs between China and India by 30 per cent or more.

Currently, most imports to India from Burma and China are channeled via the sea route through Kolkata port, which takes at least a fortnight.

In contrast, cargo from Yunnan along the Stillwell Road to North-East India would take less than two days and to the rest of the country in a week.

At the 19th Kunming Import and Export Trade fair, held earlier this month, Chinese leaders said that the target of $100 billion trade between India and China can only be met if New Delhi stops dithering over the project.

"Well that depends on the efforts of all the countries involved. We are very optimistic that this will be happening soon and we will see some tangible results in the next couple of years," said Shi Minghui, Deputy Director General, Foreign Affairs Office, Yunnan province

New Delhi fears the road might help insurgents from North-East India, many of whom have their hideouts in Burma. Meanwhile, China has already renovated the last stretch of the road running through Kunming and linked it to the country's superhighway network.

The Indian Chamber of Commerce, which has been at the forefront of lobbying with New Delhi for reopening the road, is hopeful that the road can be operational by 2013. As part of the Kunming Initiative, China is now leading the bid to reopen the Stilwell Road.

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