NEW DELHI: IN June 2018, a joint venture between Japanese trading house Marubeni Corp. and India’s Larsen & Toubro won a contract Dhaka MRT Line 6, Bangladesh’s first mass rapid transit system.
Financed with aid from the Japanese government, the 20 km long line with 16 stations from Uttara North to Motijheel is expected to alleviate congestion and air pollution in Dhaka, which has a population of over 15 million.
Marubeni, already involved in several railway projects in Bangladesh, including a 2011 contract to supply 11 diesel locomotive carriages to the state-backed Bangladesh Railway, said the joint venture “will not only strive to participate in more urban railway projects, but also in other infrastructure projects in Bangladesh.”
This was the first Indo-Japanese venture to build a rail system in another country. But earlier, Marubeni and L&T also tied up to build two power plants in Bangladesh. Earlier, it was announced that India and Japan will join hands to set up a $250 million LNG import terminal in Sri Lanka, the first collaboration to counter China’s growing influence. And the two nations also set up a massive project to jointly fund and build hospitals, roads, and other infrastructure in several African nations.
In an obvious pushback against China’s massive belt and road initiative, India, Japan and lately the US have ramped up initiatives of their own to offer an alternative to President Xi Jinping’s grand plan to connect China with Europe and Africa by road and by sea. India is trying for while to connect its northeastern states with Southeast Asia as part of the Act East policy, which calls for growing economic and cultural connectivity between northeastern states with the ASEAN region through a grid of connected roads, ports, airports, and power and telecommunication projects. But different political and economic priorities of the countries involved have ensured erratic progress at best.
But things appear likely to change. At the first South Asia Regional Connectivity Conference in New Delhi, Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale spelt out India’s vision for the region, and caustically remarked that ‘trade, not tension’ should be the mantra for regional prosperity. Attended by over 300 stakeholders, the conference was also addressed by US and Japanese ambassadors. For the belt and road, it’s pushback time.