TINSUKIA (India) • India opened its longest bridge close to the border with China in a move seen as boosting its defences in a sensitive region.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi marked the third anniversary of his rule by inaugurating the 9.1km-long Dhola-Sadiya Bridge over the Brahmaputra River that will link Assam and Arunachal Pradesh states.
Indian media have made much of the fact that the bridge has been built to support the weight of a 60-tonne tank.
Mr Modi has launched a drive to improve infrastructure in the isolated region, which comprises seven states linked to mainland India by a sliver of land that arches over Bangladesh.
"This bridge will not only save time and money, but it will also bring about a new economical revolution for the people of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh," Mr Modi said.
The structure in mountainous Arunachal Pradesh will help farmers transport crops and herbs to markets in Assam, he added.
Experts say the US$318 million (S$439 million) project will consolidate India's defences in the region.
"The bridge is going to help our troops get to parts that were earlier difficult to reach in times of crises," said Mr Ajit Singh, a defence research fellow at New Delhi's Institute for Conflict Management.
"It's a step in the right direction, a proactive step by India to counterbalance China," he noted.
The government is also constructing a 2,000km highway to connect the eastern part of Arunachal Pradesh to the western side at an estimated US$6 billion cost. It is carrying out a study on a possible new railway network in the area.
Earlier governments refused to construct roads near the border, fearing they could be used by Chinese troops in a conflict.
But in 2014, Mr Modi eased rules on building roads and army facilities near the 4,056km-long border in Arunachal Pradesh, signalling a shift in India's strategic policy.
Relations between India and China are dogged by mistrust stemming from the brief 1962 border war over Arunachal Pradesh which has a large ethnic Tibetan population.
The two sides regularly accuse each other of border incursions.
Ties soured this month when India boycotted a Beijing One Belt, One Road summit in opposition to a Chinese-Pakistani economic corridor that runs through disputed Kashmir.