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India Begins to Rebuild World War II Road

India has started rebuilding a historic 60-year-old road linking its remote northeast region to southwest China. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the route eventually could help boost trade among India, China and Southeast Asian countries.

The Stilwell Road is a winding 1700 kilometer route hacked out of jungles during the World War II to link India's northeastern state of Assam to China's Yunnan province via Burma.

It was built with the help of American military engineers to allow the Allied Army to move troops and supplies to China, then reeling under Japanese occupation. Soon after the war ended, the road fell into disuse.

The route could now get a second lease of life, this time for trade and transport between the world's two fastest growing economies.

Indian officials in northeastern Assam say India has started rebuilding its side of the road, a 61-kilometer stretch to Burma.

Assam state officials say a four-lane highway will be ready within six months. They say talks are on between the three countries to speed up opening of the road for cross-border trade.

The momentum to open new border routes between India and China began a few years ago as political and trade ties warmed steadily. Last year, the two countries opened their first land trade route through a Himalayan pass known as Nathu La (between the Indian state of Sikkim and Tibet).

An expert on Indian-Chinese affairs at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, Alka Acharya, says there is a broad push to increase trade and other links between the two countries.

"We are thinking in terms of two other passes which would be opened up for trade, and Stilwell has a history, and it is clearly part of the broader connectivity which is happening at a very rapid pace," she said. "This would open up a huge area for cross border connectivity."

China has already completed work on its side of the road. Burma is getting financial help from Beijing to rebuild its stretch.

In India, the push to open the Stilwell Road is coming from the northeast - a landlocked, underdeveloped area far removed from India's economic hubs in the north and the west. Officials in Assam hope the road will eventually make the region a gateway to China and Southeast Asia, and boost its economy.

Trade between India and China is increasing at a rapid pace, China is now India's second largest trading partner. India also wants to increase economic links with Southeast Asian countries.

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