The Bay of Bengal is gaining relevance as a significant sub-region within the Indo-Pacific. Despite its importance to regional security, there is inadequate financial, physical, and energy connectivity. India must use its strategic and political pre-eminence and influence in the sub-region to pursue deeper connectivity with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal, and Sri Lanka and to block China's growing influence.
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After successfully developing Dubai and Abu Dhabi as aerotropoli or cities around an aviation hub the United Arab Emirates aims to become an astropolis, a hub of space tourism and human spaceflight. There is ample scope for UAE to cooperate on this with India, which is also its comprehensive strategic partner.
Last month, at a hybrid meeting, the Foreign Ministers of India, the U.S., Israel, and the UAE set up a forum for quadrilateral cooperation. In the many issues discussed, the technology dimension shows the most potential for collaboration, with unique contributions of expertise and resources available from each country's tech hubs: Bengaluru, Silicon Valley, Dubai and Tel Aviv.
China is a clear winner in the physical connectivity stakes in the Bay of Bengal, and there's a reason a why: Its projects are connected to one another, from rail to road to port. While India also has some successful cross-border road and rail infrastructure projects, they are often an extension of an existing railway line or highway, not specific to the connectivity needs of the region. India can win by focussing instead on building infrastructure to maximise the vast maritime potential of the Bay of Bengal, especially the Andaman and Nicobar Islands that give India access to critical sea channels and trade routes.
On October 21, the Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla inaugurated the CCCS-Gateway House conference on "Leveraging China's Economy". In his keynote address, he traced the India-China trade imbalance, explained that the disturbed border changed equilibrium and noted that the "ability of India and China to work together will determine the Asian century".
The Bay of Bengal is a natural bridge between South and South-East Asia, which New Delhi seeks to optimise. But progress on India's Act East policy has been slow, creating a space for China's Belt and Road Initiative to step into. While India cannot match China’s cheque-book diplomacy, it can use its start-up industry to pursue a combination of physical, technological and financial projects to improve regional connectivity.
In 'A Grand Strategy: Countering China, Taming Technology, and Restoring the Media', a new book on China's technological ambitions, author William J. Holstein explains China's push to advance its technological prowess, exploring the link between technology, politics and economics in today's world. In this podcast, he tells us more about this connection, which has often been overlooked by the American media.
The Bay of Bengal is a bridge between the Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean, and with a population of 1.4 billion, an increasingly important economic zone in its own right. India has been slow to build regional connectivity. The space has been filled by China's Belt and Road Initiative projects, which have not always been beneficial for host countries. The region may be better off pursuing digital connectivity by enabling tech startups – areas of India’s strength. This research uses maps to explore the potential for energy, transport, and financial connectivity across the Bay of Bengal.
Geographical Indication (GI) tags can be ready revenue generators today, especially for India. The country's robust global e-commerce system and recent domestic drone policy can help build a strong GI ecosystem and boost India's soft power. The government must lend its support to the industry, learning from European and Chinese examples.
In June this year, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency collaborated with Honda Research to build an energy system for surface mobility on the moon. SpaceX and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Tesla and Mitsubishi Motors have similar alliances, reflecting the increased participation of the automotive sector in the space economy. Tokyo wants its biggest export, automobiles, to pick up stakes in this space. India should have a similar ambition. The May 2020 space reforms recognise the significance of commercialising the space sector. But now is the time for long-term R&D investments in the domestic auto sector, to help India step into this play.