An air corridor between India and Mongolia
could start soon.
Coming as it does on the heels of the success
of the India-Afghanistan air corridor overflying Pakistan, the decision
to explore the possibility of starting direct air services to land-locked
Mongolia was taken during the recent visit by India’s External Affairs
Minister Sushma Swaraj to Mongolia.
Mongolia considers India a “third
neighbor” as well as a “spiritual neighbor” (the late
venerable Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk who is revered in Mongolia,
was the Indian ambassador to Ulaanbaatar for 10 years). With China on
three sides and Russia on the other, Mongolia has close relations with
India, which is referred to as the third neighbor.
The Mongolia air corridor is part of the
India’s Act East policy to reach out to close nations.
“We agreed to remove institutional
and logistical impediments to boost our trade, tourism, and people to
“In this regard, we also agreed to
explore the possibility of launching direct air connectivity between our
two capitals,” Sushma Swaraj said during the joint media briefing
with Foreign Minister of Mongolia Damdin Tsogtbaatar.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Mongolia
in 2015 and promised a $1 billion line of credit to the country, meant
basically for an oil refinery. However, soon after that, the Dalai Lama
went to Mongolia and that upset China, which hit back with high tariffs
on commodity exports from Mongolia.
For its part, Mongolia came out with a statement
that it firmly supported the ‘One China’ policy, which maintains
that Tibet is an inseparable part of China.
The relationship with Mongolia plays a critical
role in India's association with Northeast Asian nations.
While the volume of India-Mongolia trade
has been growing at a fast pace over the last decade, it is still way
below its potential. India’s bilateral trade with Mongolia reached
U.S.$12.31 million in 2015: U.S.$8.26 million of exports and U.S.$4.05
million of imports.
While Delhi and the Mongolian capital of
Ulaanbaatar are at an aerial distance of 3330 km, the time taken for a
plane journey ranges from 13 to 22 hours and that too with one or two
stops en route.
As for the maritime distance, it is 7000
km with transit at Tianjin Port in China. In fact, it takes 45 days for
a container to reach Ulaanbaatar from Delhi.
For the record, the India-Afghanistan flights
Recently, a direct flight was launched between
Herat and Delhi.
It was inaugurated by the Second Vice President
of Afghanistan, Sarwar Danesh, the Indian Consul General in Herat, Kumar
Gaurav, and Herat Governor Asif Rahimi.
India has opened two air corridors with
cargo flights between Kabul, Kandahar, Delhi, and Mumbai.
Incidentally, Minister Swaraj went on to
mention (she was in Beijing after Ulanbaataar) that connectivity with
the Shanghai Cooperation countries (the Shanghai Cooperation Organization,
or SCO, is an international alliance comprising eight countries as full
members: India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan,
and Uzbekistan; four countries— Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and
Mongolia—as observers and six countries—Azerbaijan, Armenia,
Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey, and Sri Lanka—as dialogue partners) was
India’s priority. India has been actively involved in the air corridor
with Afghanistan, the International North-South Transport Corridor, the
Chabahar Port Development, the India-Myanmar-Thailand Highway Project,
and Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Initiative.
Such “initiatives would further strengthen the entire spectrum of
multi-modal networks in the SCO space,” she said.