Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

EAM attends BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers’ Meet


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: BIMSTEC, Bangkok Vision 2030

Mains level: Not Much


Central Idea

  • The first-ever Foreign Ministers’ meeting of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) commenced in Bangkok, Thailand.

Understanding BIMSTEC


  • Origins and Membership: BIMSTEC, initially known as BIST-EC (Bangladesh-India-Sri Lanka-Thailand Economic Cooperation), was established in 1997 with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration.
  • Newest members: Myanmar joined in 1997, followed by Bhutan and Nepal in 2004.
  • Population and GDP: The organization comprises seven member countries located around the Bay of Bengal, representing approximately 22% of the world’s population. The combined GDP of the member states is close to $2.7 trillion.
  • Sectoral Focus: BIMSTEC’s cooperation initially focused on six sectors: trade, technology, energy, transport, tourism, and fisheries.
  • India’s role: India’s sectoral responsibilities within BIMSTEC include security, counter-terrorism, transnational crime, disaster management, and energy.

Significance of BIMSTEC as a Regional Forum

(A) Revitalization and Engagement:

  • BIMSTEC received limited attention until India reinvigorated its engagement in October 2016, following the terrorist attack in Uri.
  • India hosted an outreach summit with BIMSTEC leaders alongside the BRICS summit in Goa.

(B) Regional aspirations

Each BIMSTEC member has strategic incentives for the organization’s growth.

  1. Bangladesh seeks regional significance
  2. Sri Lanka aims to connect with Southeast Asia and become a hub for the Indo-Pacific region
  3. Nepal and Bhutan aim to access the Bay of Bengal region
  4. Myanmar and Thailand aim to balance China’s influence in Southeast Asia by strengthening ties with India

India and BIMSTEC

  • BIMSTEC offers India a platform to prioritize its foreign policy goals of “Neighborhood First” and “Act East”.
  • This is longer run seeks to connect South and Southeast Asia, as well as the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal.

China’s Role and India’s Agenda

  • Chinese Influence and Concerns: China’s expanding presence in South and Southeast Asia through the Belt and Road Initiative has increased its interest in the Bay of Bengal region.
  • Act of counterbalancing: BIMSTEC becomes an arena for India to counterbalance Chinese investments.
  • Promoting Connectivity: India can utilize BIMSTEC to promote connectivity projects aligned with international norms, countering Chinese projects that are perceived to violate these norms.
  • Bay of Bengal as a Peaceful Region: India can showcase the Bay of Bengal as a region of openness and peace, highlighting the contrast with China’s behavior in the South China Sea.
  • Regional Stability: BIMSTEC could establish codes of conduct for regional freedom of navigation and advocate for a Bay of Bengal Zone of Peace to limit extra-regional powers’ military actions.


  • BIMSTEC has the potential to contribute to peace, stability, and economic development in the Bay of Bengal region and beyond.
  • Continued efforts and collaboration among member states are necessary to harness the full potential of BIMSTEC and achieve common goals.

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