The imperatives of development, connectivity, and security are inextricably linked in the modern world. On the one hand, the increasing need for greater industrial growth and socioeconomic development resonates with people’s aspirations for a better life. In a globalised world, this means greater regional interactions and interconnectedness through infrastructural, sociocultural, and emerging digital connectivity. On the other hand, the process of building connectivity networks and ensuring the deliverables of development is only feasible when threats of violence, conflicts and insecurity are effectively managed. Therefore, for a geographical and political space to prosper, a secured and well-connected architecture is necessary for developmental priorities to take shape. One such region where concerns of security has vitiated the prospects of connectivity and development is India’s Northeast. In the contemporary geopolitical scenario in the Bay of Bengal region, it is becoming increasingly important for India to assume a more vibrant role. This requires engagement at several levels with the neighbourhood and makes connecting with East and Southeast Asian countries crucial. The need to strengthen regional cooperation is now being understood and acknowledged at the political, diplomatic, and socioeconomic levels.
The Bay of Bengal Initiatives for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), a multilateral institution in South and Southeast Asia, can constructively contribute to the efforts being made to enhance physical, economic, and people-to-people links. The Bay of Bengal, at the centre of the Indo-Pacific, is India’s geostrategic gateway into the wider waters. Given the Indo-Pacific’s increasing relevance as a geographical space and geostrategic and economic epicentre, India has a vision for the region. India advocates for a free, open, inclusive, and rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific with ASEAN centrality (1), based upon respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations, the peaceful resolution of disputes through dialogue, and adhering to international rules and laws (2). The Indo-Pacific is perceived as a natural geographical region that hosts “a vast array of global opportunities and challenges” (3). India has also launched the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative to focus on seven central pillars conceived around maritime security, maritime ecology, maritime resources, capacity building and resource sharing, disaster risk reduction and management, science, technology and academic cooperation, and trade connectivity and maritime transport (4).
In this context, given its locational, historical, and sociocultural uniqueness, India’s Northeast region has the potential to be the centre of the country’s connectivity outreach and commercial endeavours in the Bay of Bengal region. Such interconnectedness is with India’s South Asian neighbours and Southeast and East Asian countries within the larger Indo-Pacific region. As an increasingly significant partner in the region, Japan has a long experience of investing in connectivity projects, especially in the Northeast.
Against this backdrop, this volume aims to capture the potential of the Northeast region as a crucial connecting space that can enhance India’s cross-border diplomatic, infrastructural, and commercial interactions within the Bay of Bengal regional architecture by balancing it with the Northeast’s own developmental priorities and security concerns. The volume also intends to explore the extent of Japan’s engagement in infrastructural development in this region, given the country’s wide experience in the field of connectivity. Japan’s lead on this pillar of a free and open Indo-Pacific may prove to be a great fillip for connectivity initiatives in the region in future.