GS2: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

 

What is the issue?

  • Leaders from the BIMSTEC, Kyrgyz Republic and Mauritius are invited for the swearing-in ceremony of new Indian government.

BACKGROUND

  • BIST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand – Economic Cooperation) was formed at a meeting in Jun 1997 in Bangkok.
  • Myanmar was admitted in Dec 1997 and the organization was renamed as BIMST-EC. The grouping expanded when Nepal and Bhutan were admitted in Feb 2004.
  • The grouping’s name was changed to BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) at 1st Summit Meeting held in Bangkok in Jul 2004.
  • Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
  • It brings together 1.5 billion people – 21% of the world population, and a combined GDP of over US$ 2.5 trillion.
  • BIMSTEC organizes inter-governmental interactions through Summits, Ministerial Meetings, Senior Officials Meetings and Expert Group Meetings and through BIMSTEC Working Group (BWG) based in Bangkok.

Importance of the present move

  • BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) – The invite signals a major outreach to India’s neighbourhood in the Bay of Bengal.
  • Last time, the PM had invited the SAARC leaders. The then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s attendance had raised hopes of a new beginning in the bilateral ties.
  • This time, SAARC’s exclusion is clearly aimed at keeping Pakistan out of New Delhi’s engagement with its neighbours.
  • As India became a member in SCO along with Pakistan in 2017, by inviting the Kyrgyz Republic leader, India is displaying an outreach to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
  • India thus wants to leverage its membership to advance its strategic objectives in Central Asia.
  • Further, Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth is one of the well-placed People of Indian Origin in the world.
  • Since Indian PM has invested diplomatic capital in outreach to the Indian Diaspora since 2014, this invite is seen as a natural choice and extension of the foreign policies of the previous government.

DISCUSSION

Areas of cooperation

  • BIMSTEC has identified 14 priority areas where a member country takes lead.
  • India is lead country for Transport & Communication, Tourism, Environment & Disaster Management and Counter Terrorism & Transnational Crime.
  • A BIMSTEC Information Centre has been established in Jul 2007 in New Delhi. Ministry of Tourism organized a meeting on BIMSTEC Information Centre and contribution to Tourism Fund.
  • Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) has been divided into 4 sub-groups with lead shepherds – Intelligence Sharing (Sri Lanka); Combating Financing of Terrorism (Thailand), Legal and Law Enforcement Issues (India) and Prevention of Illicit Trafficking in Narcotics Drugs, sychotropic Substances and Precursors (Myanmar).
  • Under the Environment and Disaster Management theme, India is establishing BIMSTEC Weather and Climate Centre at National Weather Forecasting Centre at NOIDA.
  • A Framework Agreement for BIMSTEC Free Trade Area was signed in Phuket, Thailand in Feb 2004.
  • The cultural cooperation: The first BIMSTEC Ministerial meeting on Culture was held in Paro, Bhutan in May 2006.
  • Cooperation in energy fields, especially at Myanmar.
  • Nepal hosted the 2nd Ministerial Meeting in Jan 2012 in Kathmandu where Plan of Poverty Alleviation was adopted.
  • Sri Lanka hosted the 3rd meeting on May 9-10, 2011 in Colombo on establishment of BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Exchange Facility.

Significance of BIMSTEC

  • New Delhi’s engagement with BIMSTEC rose from the backlashes at SAARC due to the presence of Pakistan and its demand for the inclusion of China.
  • In October 2016, following the Uri attack, India gave a renewed functions at BIMSTEC, although it had existed for almost two decades.
  • India had long felt that the vast potential of SAARC was being under-utilised. Opportunities were being lost due to either a lack of response and/or an obstructionist approach from Pakistan.
  • Moreover, BIMSTEC had emerged as an alternative regional platform. With 5 five countries from SAARC and two from ASEAN, BIMSTEC is a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia.
  • It thus offers scope for discussions on sub-regional cooperation across different geographies.
  • Nevertheless, SAARC summit has only been postponed, and not cancelled.
  • The possibility of revival remains, and so, the success of BIMSTEC does not render SAARC pointless.

Importance of the region

  • The Bay of Bengal is the largest bay in the world and one of the busiest of the south Asia.
  • Over one-fifth (22%) of the world’s population live in the seven countries around it.
  • These countries have a combined GDP of close to $2.7 trillion.
  • Despite economic challenges, they have been able to sustain average annual economic growth rates of 3.4% – 7.5% from 2012 to 2016.
  • The Bay also has vast untapped natural resources that can cater the development of the region.
  • One-fourth of the world’s traded goods cross the Bay every year.

Way forward

  • As the region’s largest economy, India has a lot at stake in BIMSTEC.
  • It is a natural platform to fulfil India’s key foreign policy priorities of ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’.
  • A key reason for India’s engagement is the vast potential that is unlocked with stronger connectivity.
  • About 45 million people live in landlocked North-eastern states.
  • They will have the opportunity to connect via the Bay of Bengal to Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand.
  • This opens up new possibilities in terms of development.
  • From the strategic perspective, the Bay of Bengal is a funnel to the Malacca straits.
  • In this context, the Bay has emerged a key theatre for an increasingly assertive China in maintaining its access route to the Indian Ocean.
  • Given these, it is in India’s interest to consolidate its internal engagement among the BIMSTEC countries.
  • The BIMSTEC invite is an effort to reach out diplomatically to the neighbourhood, diaspora and the China-Russia-led regional grouping of Central Asian countries.
  • The future course of the move depends on the progress New Delhi makes with these groupings.

 

#Practice Question

  1. For India’s “neighbourhood first policy”, BIMSTEC is more conducive than SAARC. Critically evaluate. (200 Words)
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