The Road to Asian Unity

NEW DELHI – Asia’s lack of institutions to ameliorate regional tensions is often lamented. But greater Asian unity may be arising by the backdoor, in the form of new and impressive infrastructure links.

Today’s efforts to expand regional infrastructure projects are all the more remarkable for linking even countries locked in diplomatic, and sometimes open, conflict. New bus routes between India and Pakistan may not make headlines, but they deliver a degree of normalcy to relations riddled with mistrust. Elsewhere, rail links between China and Vietnam, road developments connecting India and Bangladesh, and new ports, harbors, and pipelines in Myanmar and Pakistan are forging a new form of economic unity alongside the region’s manufacturing supply chains.

Such ventures now dot Asia’s geography, even as tensions over unsettled boundaries and sovereignty claims are fueling turbulence. Consider Afghanistan, which faces yet another phase of internal dislocation. There, India nonetheless continues to build a strategic ring road around the country, as well as a vitally important dam at Salma. And a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, which would traverse the country, is coming closer to reality.

Then there is the Bay of Bengal, where Chinese infrastructure investment is set to transform the backward Myanmar seaside town of Kyaukpyu and the surrounding region by tapping offshore gas fields and constructing a pipeline to Yunnan Province in southern China. These initiatives reflect not only China’s voracious drive for natural resources and new trade routes, but also Myanmar’s own plans to create a “mini-Singapore” within its borders.