Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Bridging the bay in quest of a stronger BIMSTEC

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Centre for Bay of Bengal Studies (CBS)

Mains level : Paper 2- Quest for a stronger BIMSTEC

Context

Sri Lanka is gearing up to host the Fifth Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Summit, now in its silver jubilee year. The summit is being held in virtual/hybrid mode and Sri Lanka is the current BIMSTEC chair.

Why BIMSTEC matters for India and the region

  • The unique ecology of BIMSTEC is witnessing enriched political support and commitment from India.
  • India has made the Bay of Bengal integral to India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’ policies which can accelerate the process of regional integration.
  • Significance in economic and strategic space: Finalising the BIMSTEC Charter; BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity; BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters; BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility (TTF); cooperation between diplomatic academies/training institutions; and a template of Memorandum of Association for the future establishment of BIMSTEC centres/entities present signs of optimism.
  • BIMSTEC as a centre of Indo-Pacific: With a re-emergence of the idea of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region, the growing economic, geopolitical and security connections between the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean regions are creating a shared strategic space.
  • The Bay of Bengal is evolving as the centre of the Indo-Pacific region again.
  • The renewed focus has given a new lease of life to the developmental efforts in the region, in particular BIMSTEC.

Way forward for BIMSTEC

1] Political support and strong commitment from all member countries

  • With a changed narrative and approach, the Bay of Bengal has the potential to become the epicentre of the Indo-Pacific idea — a place where the strategic interests of the major powers of East and South Asia intersect.
  • Potential of BIMSTEC: There is a greater appreciation of BIMSTEC’s potential due to geographical contiguity, abundant natural and human resources, and rich historical linkages and a cultural heritage for promoting deeper cooperation in the region.
  • Political support and strong commitment from all member countries are crucial in making BIMSTEC a dynamic and effective regional organisation.

2] Boost connectivity

  • Connectivity is essential to develop a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable Bay of Bengal region.
  • The BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity will provide the necessary boost to connectivity.
  •  Therefore, BIMSTEC needs to address two dimensions of connectivity – one, upgrading and dovetailing national connectivity into a regional road map; and two, development of both hard and soft infrastructures.

3] Enhance cooperation in different areas

  • There is growing involvement of educational institutions, industries and business chambers through various forums and conclaves which are helping to enhance cooperation in the areas of education, trade and investments, information technology and communication among others.
  • India has implemented its promise to set up a Centre for Bay of Bengal Studies (CBS) at Nalanda University, Bihar for research on art, culture and other subjects related to the Bay of Bengal.

4] Strengthen the institutional capacity of the BIMSTEC Secretariat

  • The BIMSTEC Secretariat coordinates, monitors and facilitates the implementation of BIMSTEC activities and programmes. The leaders must agree to strengthen the institutional capacity of the BIMSTEC Secretariat.
  • Charter for BIMSTEC: Approval of a charter for BIMSTEC during the summit will further augment its visibility and stature in international fora.

Conclusion

The quest for economic growth and the development of the BIMSTEC region can be achieved with single-minded focus and cooperation among the member counties. In this endeavour, India has a key role in accelerating regional cooperation under the BIMSTEC framework and in making it vibrant, stronger and result-oriented.

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