When the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s government approved US$256 million to upgrade a section of a remote border road last month, few took notice.
Yet India’s decision to revive plans for the trilateral highway, part of an ambitious 1,360km crossing to link north-eastern India with markets in Thailand and beyond, marks the next phase in the jostle between New Delhi and Beijing for economic and strategic influence in the region.
In the past two years alone, India has assigned more than $4.7 billion in contracts for the development of its border roads, according to government figures, including the highway which will run from Moreh in Manipur through Tamu in Myanmar to Mae-Sot in Thailand.
The construction has taken on new urgency as China pushes ahead with its own vast “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure initiative, expected to involve investments worth more than half a trillion dollars across 62 nations. The intercontinental web of road, rail and trade links has raised concerns among strategic rivals India, Russia, the United States and Japan.
Among the biggest showcases of the plan – an economic corridor that runs through the Pakistan-administered part of disputed Kashmir, which both India and Pakistan claim – has unsettled equations in the South Asian neighbourhood, where border tensions often simmer.