As India places the Mekong sub-region among its priorities under the country’s ‘Act East’ policy, the ongoing India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway project––currently the only land connectivity project between India and the Mekong countries and the wider Southeast Asian region––could prove to be a game changer.It is imperative to explore ways to ensure early completion of this strategic communication link.

As China creates more corridors with and through the CLMV countries, its political and economic clout in this sub-region is going to grow further.

The emerging China-initiated corridors have the potential of further tying the strategic interests of the Mekong nations to those of China.

As Delhi gives a further diplomatic push to strengthening ties with the CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) and Thailand under the Modi government’s ‘Act East’ policy, the IMT highway project could be a game changer for India-Mekong ties and the wider Southeast Asia.

As India and ASEAN take the proposed joint task force forward, the need to complete the original stretch of the project from India to Thailand via Myanmar has become even more urgent.

India-ASEAN Summit held in the Laotian capital of Vientiane, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had stressed the need for further strengthening Delhi’s ties with the regional bloc ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

Emphasising the significance of overall connectivity, and physical connectivity in particular, as the first step to enhancing people-to-people contacts, Modi proposed the setting up of a Joint Task Force on connectivity to work on extending the IMT highway even further to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

With his visit to Laos to participate in the India-ASEAN summit, Prime Minister Modi has travelled to all the CLMV countries except Cambodia.

In November 2014, Modi visited Myanmar to participate in the India-ASEAN Summit, during which he unveiled India’s ‘Act East’ policy.

On 13 November 2016, the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway (IMT Highway) Friendship Car Rally was flagged off in Delhi by Mansukh Lal Mandaviya, Indian Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways, Shipping and Chemicals and Fertilizers.

According to the government, the objective of the rally was to sensitise stakeholders to the potential benefits of a motor vehicles agreement (MVA) between the three countries.

Importantly, in August 2016, the Modi Cabinet cleared a proposal to create a -million project development fund (PDF) to increase India’s economic presence in CLMV countries.