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India and BIMSTEC
JUN   10

India and BIMSTEC

JUN 8

Mains   > International relations   >   Regional groupings   >   BIMSTEC

IN NEWS:

  • The 25th Founding Day of BIMSTEC was celebrated in Dhaka on 6th June 2022.

MORE ON NEWS:

  • Speaking on the occasion of the 25th Founding Day, BIMSTEC Secretary General Tenzin Lekphell has said that in its 25 years of existence, BIMSTEC has proved to be a bridge of friendship connecting the people of South and South-east Asia.
  • Secretary General also said that establishment of the BIMSTEC Secretariat in Dhaka in 2014 and adoption of the BIMSTEC charter at the 5th summit in Colombo this year (2022) are two major milestones that BIMSTEC has achieved.

Highlights of 5th BIMSTEC Summit (2022,hosted by Sri Lanka)

  • BIMSTEC Charter:
    • The main outcome of the Summit was the adoption and signing of the BIMSTEC Charter, which formalizes the grouping into an organization made up of members states that are littoral to, and dependent upon, the Bay of Bengal.
      • The Charter had given the BIMSTEC a new orientation and concrete goals.
      • Under this Charter, the members were expected to meet once in every two years.
      • In line with the development of the organisation into a formal structure, the leaders of the member-countries have agreed to divide the working of the grouping into seven segments, with India providing leadership to the security pillar.
  • Master Plan for Transport Connectivity:
    • The Summit also saw considerable progress being achieved in the BIMSTEC connectivity agenda with the adoption of the ‘Master Plan for Transport Connectivity’ by Leaders which lays out a guidance framework for connectivity related activities in the region in the future.
  • Three BIMSTEC agreements:
    • The summit also witnessed the signing of three BIMSTEC agreements,
      • Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters
      • Memorandum of Understanding on Mutual Cooperation in the field of Diplomatic Training
      • Memorandum of Association on Establishment of BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility.

ABOUT:

  • BIMSTEC stands for Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation
  • It is a regional organization comprising seven Member States lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal constituting a contiguous regional unity.
  • This sub-regional organization came into being on 6 June 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration.
  • Member States:
    • Five deriving from South Asia, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and
    • Two from Southeast Asia, including Myanmar and Thailand.
    • The Permanent Secretariat of BIMSTEC was established in Dhaka, Bangladesh
    • The Chairmanship of BIMSTEC rotates among the Member States.

INSTITUTIONAL MECHANISMS IN BIMSTEC

  • BIMSTEC Summit
    • Highest policymaking body in BIMSTEC process and is comprised of heads of government of member states.
  • Ministerial Meeting
    • Second apex policy-making forum of BIMSTEC attended by the External/Foreign Ministers of Member States.
  • Senior Officials’ Meeting
    • Represented by Senior Officials of Foreign Ministries of the Member States.
  • BIMSTEC Working Group
    • Attended by Ambassadors of BIMSTEC Member Countries to Bangladesh or their representatives on a monthly basis at the BIMSTEC Secretariat in Dhaka.
  • Business Forum & Economic Forum
    • The two important forums to ensure active participation of private sector.

SIGNIFICANCE OF BIMSTEC FOR INDIA

  • Strategic or Geopolitical:
    • Aligned with India’s foreign policy priorities:
      • For India, BIMSTEC stands at the very important juncture of ‘Neighborhood First’ and ‘Act East Policy’.
      • It also aids our South-South cooperation efforts.
    • A platform which is free from bilateral tussles:
      • A new platform for India to engage with its neighbors with SAARC becoming dysfunctional because of differences between India and Pakistan.
      • Absence of Pakistan in the grouping (unlike SAARC) >> will give more space of open discussions and negotiations
    • To contain China:
      • The rapidly changing geostrategic context of Asia and India’s need to look at Bay of Bengal as a key theatre for containing an increasingly capable and assertive China >> brings BIMSTEC in to center stage.
  • Economic:
    • Market:
      • The BIMSTEC region offers a market of 1.6 billion people, about a fifth of the global population.
    • Trade potential:
      • The implementation of the proposed BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement can help the intra-BIMSTEC trade grow up to USD 240 billion from the current estimated USD 40 billion.
    • Vast marine wealth:
      • Potential for development of blue economy around the Bay of Bengal region
    • Empowerment of North-East India:
      • Development of the North-eastern region through integration with South East Asia.
    • Mineral exploration:
      • Petroleum and natural-gas discoveries have been made in the Bay of Bengal, notably offshore of the Godavari and Mahanadi deltas
      • There are placer deposits of titanium off northeastern Sri Lanka and rare earths off northeastern India
    • Tourism:
      • Tourism has rich potential in the BIMSTEC region, as this region is home to ancient civilizations with deep civilization and cultural linkages, several historic monuments, and natural splendour.
      • BIMSTEC Tourism Information Centre was established in in Delhi to create a Network of Tour Operators among the BIMSTEC Member States to promote tourism in the region
  • Scope for regional integration:
    • The projects pending with BIMSTEC such as Kaladan Multimodal project, Trilateral Highway, BIMSTEC Motor Vehicle Agreement, BIMSTEC Coastal Shipping Agreement, when finished, are likely to transform the region, especially India
    • BIMSTEC also constitutes a bridge between South and South East Asia and represents a reinforcement of relations among these countries.
  • Security:
    • Greater cooperation among BIMSTEC states enables better capability for countering terrorism, drug trafficking, piracy etc.
    • With gaining central leadership in BIMSTEC India could assert the position of ‘net security provider’ in the Indian Ocean Region
  • Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime:
    • Terrorism remains the single largest significant threat to peace and stability in the region.
    • BIMSTEC, through its various sub-groups under Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime has been working towards strengthening cooperation against terrorism.
  • Environment and Disaster Management
    • BIMSTEC region is vulnerable to a variety of natural disasters.
    • Building regional capacities for coordinated disaster response, risk reduction and rehabilitation is accordingly important to the region.
    • The BIMSTEC Summit in 2014 resolved to enhance cooperation in environmental protection and sustainable development and promote capacity building in the area of disaster management.
    • India has also taken the initiative for addressing regional susceptibilities in this regard by setting up a BIMSTEC Centre for Weather and Climate
    • The first BIMSTEC Disaster Management Exercise hosted by India in 2017 saw participation from all Member States

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

  • BIMSTEC Leader's Retreat in 2016
    • The BIMSTEC Leader's Retreat hosted by India in Goa in October 2016 served as an important impetus to BIMSTEC.
    • A robust policy agenda agreed during the Retreat was meant to translate the shared commitment into delivery of specific, people oriented initiatives to achieve greater connectivity, trade, people-to-people contacts, and sustainable use of resources
  • Disaster Management Exercise in 2017
    • India conducted the first BIMSTEC Disaster Management Exercise with the National Disaster Response Force as the lead agency in New Delhi.
  • Military exercise in 2018
    • India hosted the first ever military exercise of BIMSTEC countries in Pune.
  • 20th Anniversary of BIMSTEC:
    • A series of events were organised by India to mark the 20th anniversary of BIMSTEC in 2017-18.
    • These include:
      • A BIMSTEC business conference by Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) at Agartala
      • BIMSTEC Tele-Medicine Network by JIPMER
      • BIMSTEC Festival of Buddhist Heritage
  • Invitation to swearing-in ceremony in 2019
    • BIMSTEC leaders were invited to the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  • At the fifth summit of the grouping(2022,Sri Lanka), Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledges $1 million to augment the Bimstec secretariat' budget

CHALLENGES:

  • Geopolitical and Strategic:
    • China factor
      • China’s strategic and economic influence on BIMSTEC members >> can make BIMSTEC hostage to Indo-China regional rivalry.
    • Confusion over India’s intentions
      • BIMSTEC is sometimes perceived as grouping driven by India for the sole purpose of isolating Pakistan
      • India will need to convince other BIMSTEC members that its new outreach to them is not a “rebound relationship,” a short-term measure to isolate Pakistan.
    • India fails to provide a central leadership
      • India, its largest member, has often been blamed for not providing a strong leadership.
      • Consequent to slow progress of its mandate, Thailand and Myanmar have often seen ignoring BIMSTEC for ASEAN Forum.
    • The impression that it is an India-dominated bloc:
      • This perception of Indian hegemony, coupled with big brother attitude portrayed by India in certain cases such as Nepal’s Constitution building etc. >> pose a great challenge for the forum to succeed 
    • Political unrest in Myanmar
      • Ongoing military coup in Myanmar and popular protest against the military coup is a new practical challenge.
  • Economic:
    • Lack of connectivity
      • Lack of good infrastructure especially in the coastal area has acted as a barrier to trade by raising cost and time
      • Physical connectivity between member countries is at nascent stage, and many of such projects faces delays
      • For instance the tri-lateral highway connecting India-Myanmar-Thailand has not yet operationalized.
    • Poor intra-regional trade and investment:
      • The BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement (FTA), signed in 2004, is yet to be implemented.
      • The protectionist economies of South Asian countries and so-called national interests are making free trade an unattainable objective.
      • The growth of intra- regional investment is negligible
  • Institutional:
    • Apathy towards holding regular annual summits:
      • Only five summit meetings have been held since its inception 25 years back.
      • It took seven years for its first summit to take place in 2004 at Thailand.
    • Lack of institutional support and funding:
      • It also took 17 long years for this Forum to establish its permanent secretariat at Dhaka in 2014.
      • The secretariat faces a severe resource crunch, both in terms of money and manpower, which has adversely affected its performance
  • Bilateral issues between member nations:
    • Bangladesh is facing one of the worst refugee crisis of Rohingyas from Myanmar who are fleeing prosecution in the state of Rakhine in Myanmar.
    • There is a border conflict between Myanmar and Thailand.
    • A maritime dispute between India and Sri Lanka remains unsolved >> Despite an agreement in 1974 (Indo-Lanka Maritime Boundary Agreement) Indian fishermen tend to cross the maritime border into Sri Lanka in the Palk Strait

WAY FORWARD:

  • India should take the lead
    • As BIMSTEC suffers from a lack of human and financial resources >> India needs to allocate more resources to its BIMSTEC budget and should take an informal leadership role to provide BIMSTEC with momentum.
  • Gujral Doctrine:
    • Application of Gujral doctrine will help to build trust between BIMSTEC member states
  • Ensuring tangible results
    • This will add to the motivation of the countries to concentrate on BIMSTEC
    • Projects in the areas of tourism, digital connectivity, energy connectivity and humanitarian assistance in disaster relief should be considered as priority
  • A platform for dispute resolution
    • Empowering BIMSTEC to be a platform for dispute resolution among member countries.
  • Balancing Security and Economy:
    • India has led through constant focus and follow-up — to the extent that some member-states have complained about the ‘over securitization of BIMSTEC.
    • Hence, there is a need to ensure maintaining security and forging solid arrangements for economic cooperation.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. “BIMSTEC is an important platform for India to consolidate regional cooperation in its neighbourhood”. Discuss.

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India and BIMSTEC
JUN   10