EMERGING SIGNIFICANCE OF BIMSTEC
29, May 2019
Prelims level : International Mains level : GS-II Governance, Social Justice and IR
Why in News:
- Leaders from the BIMSTEC, Kyrgyz Republic and Mauritius are invited for the swearing-in ceremony of Indian Prime Minister.
- In this context, here is an overview on the role and significance of BIMSTEC in India.
What do these imply?
- 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.
- Kyrgyzstan – By inviting the Kyrgyz Republic leader, India is displaying an outreach to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
- India became a member in SCO along with Pakistan in 2017.
- India thus wants to leverage its membership to advance its strategic objectives in Central Asia.
- Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth is one of the most 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.
Why is BIMSTEC so significant?
- BIMSTEC comprises of Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan, besides India.
- New Delhi’s engagement with BIMSTEC rose from the ashes of SAARC (India, Pakistan,Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, and Afghanistan).
- In October 2016, following the Uri attack, India gave a renewed push for 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.
- So 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.
- 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.
Why the Region Matters?
- The Bay of Bengal is the largest bay in the world.
- 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.
- One-fourth of the world’s traded goods cross the Bay every year.
How could India benefit?
- 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.