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Approach:

  1. Introduction.
  2. Very briefly mention the scope & objective of BIMSTEC.
  3. BIMSTEC’s utility for India.
  4. Issues and challenges to BIMSTEC.
  5. Measures that can be taken.
  6. Conclusion.

The recent Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation summit had been hosted by Sri Lanka. This sub-regional grouping, formed in 1997, has had minimal interaction & modest achievements – the grouping will host its 5th summit in the last 25 years since its formation.

Scope & objective of BIMSTEC: The idea channelizing formation of this grouping was to remedy the lack of connectedness between South Asia and Southeast Asia. The BIMSTEC region has a population of around 22% of the global population with a combined GDP of over US$2.7 trillion. The ambit of the cooperation ranges from Agriculture, tourism, trade & investment to energy, poverty alleviation and climate change.

Significance for India:

  • BIMSTEC allows the confluence of its Act East & Neighborhood policies. It also allows to coincide with its strategic view of Indo-Pacific
  • India’s renewed interest in BIMSTEC has led to its rejuvenation. This was indicative in the 2016 BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach summit held in the backdrop of the SAARC cancellation. India chose to invite BIMSTEC leaders in 2019 oath ceremony.
  • Thus, due to failure of SAARC, given the Indo-Pak hostilities, India has turned to BIMSTEC nations for expanding its presence in the Indo-Pacific, to safeguard its security concerns.
  • It provides an opportune moment for India to build its base in Southeast outside of its ASEAN The capacity of BIMSTEC gives India the possibility to strengthen relations with ASEAN & vice-versa.
  • This is also an opportunity to reconnect with neighbors and revamp its image of ‘big brother’ in the region.

Challenges of BIMSTEC:

  • The Bangladesh-Myanmar row over Rohingya crisis, India-Nepal border issue, India-Sri Lanka fishing rift – all have fed to the latency in the organization. The enhancing bilateral relations have also diluted their interest significantly contributing towards this organization.
  • The domestic situation of these nations too possess significant threats – the region is prone to weapon & drug trafficking, aggravating the volatile situation in India’s northeast. For India, the militant activities in the NE is an impediment to the success of its initiatives.
  • The Sri Lankan economic crisis, insurgency & trade union issues in Myanmar have long-term impact on the actualization of the grouping.
  • The member countries’ participation is constrained by their relations with China. Only Bhutan & India are not part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

What can be done ?:

  • For BIMSTEC to become more relevant, it has to engage extra-regional like-minded partners, willing to invest in the region. Simultaneously taking BIMSTEC to other groupings outside the region is also crucial. One such favorable partnership could be with QUAD.
  • While the focus of BIMSTEC has usually been on environment & disaster management, the expansion & finalization of initiatives in other areas is especially important. One such sector is the financial and economic exchange, which requires Free Trade Agreement.
  • It needs to focus on extending activities to the sea by formulating policies on the development of ‘Blue Economy’.
  • Given the region’s relation to Indo-Pacific, increasing dialogue on maritime security & codes for future engagements can help counter strategic Chinese voyages in the seas.
  • Requisite financing must be ensured for the success of its measures. It should focus on reforming its internal structuring to better enable to take & implement decisions. In the absence of this, BIMSTEC will continue to be plagued by latency & inactivity.

The Summit has provided further momentum to the grouping, especially after the pandemic-induced dormancy. However, it will test the strength of the grouping given the shift in Balance of Power in Asia, the world’s response to Russian aggression in Ukraine and their evolving national interests in the light of a rapidly developing world.

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