Years after the Nathu-La pass, the highest traded pass between China and India opened, the Myanmar, China and India governments are working together to re-build Burma’s historic ‘Stilwell Road’. The road which passes through Myanmar could cut costs of transporting goods between China and India by 30 percent and will greatly aid the trade of commodities from India’s isolated North East to China. The Stilwell Road was formerly the route from India used by British and American forces to supply Chinese troops in the battle against Japanese occupation during the Second World War.
While both India and China had contested to construct the road, the contract to rebuild the 312 kilometer stretch from Myitkyina in Myanmar to Pangsau Pass on the India-Myanmar border was finally awarded to China’s Yunnan Construction Engineering Group in a joint venture with the Burmese military-backed Yuzana Group.. Since Myanmar which separates parts of China from India is strategically located between the two countries, China’s contract to rebuild the road highlights its growing clout in the region.
Originally termed the Ledo Road, the 1,736 km Stilwell Road was built during World War II from Ledo in Assam to Kunming so that the Western Allies could supply Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang forces after another route had been cut by the Japanese in 1942. The road was named after American General ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell in 1945 by Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek to honour his determination to find a faster way to get more military supplies from India to Chinese troops in Kunming.
It winds its way from Ledo in Assam through Jairampur and Nampong in Arunachal Pradesh until it reaches the Pangsau Pass (aka the “Hell Pass”) where it crosses into Myanmar. The road then weaves through upper Myanmar to reach Myitkyina before turning eastward to China where it culminates at Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. Roughly 61 km runs through India, 1,035 km through Myanmar and 640 km in China.
After the war, the road has fallen into disuse, and with neither of the three countries cooperating with each other until now, the road was almost non-existent in many places. However with a renewal of ties and trade in the region rising manifold, the significance of ancient trade routes has regained prominence. Beijing has already renovated the stretch running through China and linked it with the country’s superhighway network. It has also been developing other infrastructure in Yunnan, where Kunming is an increasingly important industrial center, in order to maximize gains from trade once the Stilwell Road is reopened.