Chennai-Vladivostok sea route: India's effort to counter China's OBOR could soon get a big Russian helping hand
Aiming to put in place a key maritime route connecting India with Northeast Asia and Western Pacific region Delhi is contemplating to put in place a major connectivity initiative — direct shipping link between Chennai and Vladivostok amid China’s ambitious Maritime Silk Route (MSR) connecting Asia with Africa.
With India making concrete moves to expand its presence in Far East Russia to harness natural resources as evident through Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Vladivostok last week plans are in making for a maritime link connecting Chennai with the key Russian port on the Pacific. This shipping link would enable to transfer cargo between Chennai and Vladivostok in 24 days in comparison to over 40 days currently taken to transport goods from India to Far East Russia via Europe, according to experts on the subject.
This proposed maritime route which could be transformed into a corridor could juxtapose with Indo-Japan Pacific to Indian Ocean Corridor amid Beijing’s OBOR of which MSR is a part – virtually connecting entire SE Asia through road, shipping and rail links.
Swaraj met top Russian Ministers from Putin’s cabinet – Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Industry Minister Denis Manturov, Natural resources Minister Sergei Donskoi and Deputy PM & President’s envoy for Far East Yury Trutnev besides governors of provinces in the region to further India’s role amid Moscow’s aim to diversify options besides China. South Korean President and Japanese PM were present at the Far East Forum that saw senior level representation (Swaraj) from India for the first time. Few months back Russia announced visa-free entry for Indians in its Far East.
On the occasion Swaraj also launched Russia Desk for facilitating Russian investments into India as assured by PM Narendra Modi during the annual summit in St Petersburg in June. This is the 3rd such Desk in India after Japan and Korea. Russia Desk would provide complete support service for any kind of Russian investment/ Businessmen/ from legislative to taxation; from personnel to finding right partner, according to informed officials.
The Far Eastern Federal District (twice the size of India) is the largest but the least populated of the eight federal districts of Russia, with a population of roughly 6.3 million. Russian affairs experts who did not wish to be identified indicated to ET that Moscow is sensitive to growing Chinese presence in Russia's Far-eastern region particularly increasing population from China which are settling there. "This pattern could change demographics of Far-east Russia and growing presence of other countries including India will help to bring balance," pointed out an expert.
India was the first country to establish a resident Consulate in Vladivostok in 1992. Current engagement of India with the region is limited to isolated pockets such as the Irkut Corporation in Irkutsk where the Mig and Sukhoi aircraft are built and over USD 6 billion worth of investments by ONGC Visesh Limited in the Sakhalin 1 project, according to persons familiar with the issue.
The region has a wealth of natural resources such as land, timber, mineral and other resources like tin, gold, diamonds and oil and natural gas. The Russian government has announced several initiatives to attract investments in the region, including an agricultural SEZ, the Vladivostok Free Port Project and also invites participation in the timber industry , mining of the huge mineral resources (coal & diamonds) and precious metal deposits (gold, platinum, tin and tungsten).
Opportunities for collaboration for Indian companies include in such sectors as agriculture, mining, port development and infrastructure, diamond processing, agro-processing.
The move to open up alternate sea routes makes economic and strategic sense. The connectivity creates another opportunity for long time partners to come together on a venture that can potentially open up new trade opportunities. It is also about securing access to natural resources that are crucial for a growing economy like India. Strategically, it adds another strand to India’s effort to counter China’s global ambitions of dominance.