By Ding Gang Source: Global Times Published: 2016-6-16
Last week I visited the General Joseph W. Stilwell Museum in Chongqing, Southwest China. The three-storey house located by the Jialing River used to be his residence and headquarters during the WWII. Now, the building has nothing left inside but a display of old photos.
One of the photos shows several vintage US military trucks driving along a bumpy muddy mountainside road. This is the Stilwell Road, widely known and appreciated by the Chinese. But in the photos, it is merely a mountain path that only allows one truck to pass at a time.
More than 70 years ago when the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45) was bitter and fierce, the Stilwell Road played a subsidiary role in supplying the Chinese. Given the construction of the road cost thousands of lives and it failed to function as expected, the real effect of the road has raised some controversies.
The Stilwell Road was called the Ledo Road, but renamed after Stilwell at the suggestion of Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek. Ledo, a small town in northern India, is the starting point of this legendary road. From Ledo to Kunming, Southwest China`s Yunnan Province, the road is 1,800 kilometers long, and Myanmar`s Myitkyina is the middle point. It is obvious that the road that connects China, India and Myanmar bears economic significance for South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia.
Driven by the economic potential and the need to reinforce transport network in the region, an increasing clamor of voices in China, India and Myanmar is calling for the restoration of the road. It is time for the three countries to deliberate over project.
The road is not intact. China has completed the reconstruction of the section from Kunming to the Sino-Myanmese border and connected the road to China`s well-developed road system. With China`s help, Myanmar has also accomplished the section from the Sino-Myanmese border to Myitkyina. However, the sections from Myanmar to India and within India are barely usable. Some parts have already been deserted due to bad conditions.
Myanmar has started to renovate part of the road, but the reconstruction is not smooth due to lack of funds and technologies and the presence of Indian and Myanmese ethnic insurgents in the area.
India is worried about the reconstruction of the road for two reasons. First, the road starts from Assam, a state where local militants have become increasingly active. Second, China-made products can flood into the Indian market through the road.
But India has toned down the two concerns because New Delhi has adopted a Look East policy, and the process of advancing the strategy requires the stability of northern India, in which a well-functioning road system matters a lot. Thus, recently Assam has started to fix part of the road.
The Indian economy has entered a stage of rapid development, and its rich deposit of resources in northern India demands a convenient and efficient transport system to draw in more foreign investment. A diversified investment environment will relieve India`s worry about the influx of Chinese products.
Considering that China is a more developed country than India and Myanmar, it should play a major role in the reconstruction work. All three countries should set up a joint dialogue mechanism, in which their concerns and problems can be put on the negotiating table, including how to make peace with ethnic insurgents, and the three countries can find out solutions together. China can be the initiator of the communication mechanism.
The restoration of the Stilwell Road will revitalize the promising path, which will interconnect Southwest China, South Asia and Southeast Asia, and merge the region into an emerging market. The ethnic groups living in this area can seize the chance and prosper.
The author is a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.