Feb 22 - Indian states bordering Myanmar are losing out to China in the race to develop trade ties in one of Asia's great historic crossroads. Paul Chapman reports.
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The northeast state of Manipur was meant to be the cornerstone of India's Look East policy to link India with its Asian neighbours.
But the government's failure to seize the initiative has left the region lagging in the doldrums and unable to cash in on Myanmar's re-emergence from isolation.
The winner so far in the race to make the most of one of Asia's great historic crossroads is China.
India's northeast region has been something of an anomaly since independence from Britain in 1947.
It's culturally and ethnically closer to Myanmar and China and an insurgency has been going on for decades curbed by local shoot-to-kill policies.
Human Rights Alert's executive director says Manipur is paying the price of New Delhi's short-sighted policies towards its own northeastern states.
SOUNDBITE: Babloo Loitongbam, Executive Director, Human Rights Alert, saying (English):
"I think we need to get rid of this whole archaic structure with which this region has been ruled for many many years. Only then, when the border opens up, when we link up with Southeast Asia and China, we can really be proud of a place where there is development and also there is democracy."
Indian government planners had hoped to see cargo heading back and forth along intercontinental rail and road routes to Thailand, Cambodia and beyond to China.
Instead the country appears poised to fumble one of Asia's greatest economic and strategic opportunities in decades.
The town of Moreh is the living embodiment of those failed hopes.
Legal trade is limited to small-scale merchants mostly bartering flour and soy products for betel nuts.
But trucks loaded with mattresses, electrical appliances and other contraband good pour across the border into India everyday, along with drugs, guns and gems.
SOUNDBITE: Pilasini, local trader, saying (Meiteilon):
"I bring the goods from Moreh Namphalong and then I sell them at the local market."
Until the early 90s people from Myanmar flocked across the border to snap up Indian-made consumer goods.
As China's factories revved up to offer cheaper and more durable alternatives the market switched to the other side of the fence.
This corner of one of the world's fastest-growing economies is falling behind even the furthest-flung parts of Myanmar.
Paul Chapman, Reuters
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