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BIMSTEC Summit: Bangkok Vision 2030


The BIMSTEC summit scheduled for the end of this year is set to embrace the Bangkok Vision 2030, a comprehensive document that will steer the organization’s future course. Saurabh Kumar, the Secretary (East) at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), mentioned that this vision will guide not only the organization but also the Eminent Persons Group. Additionally, there are expectations of finalizing a marine transport cooperation agreement during the summit.

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What is BIMSTEC?

  • In 1997, a regional organization was formed with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration.
  • Originally known as BIST-EC (Bangladesh-India-Sri Lanka-Thailand Economic Cooperation), it was later renamed ‘BIMST-EC’ after Myanmar joined in 1997.
  • Over time, it expanded to include Bhutan and Nepal, becoming a seven-member organization in 2004.
  • The BIMSTEC Charter was signed and adopted during the ‘Fifth BIMSTEC Summit’ in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 2022.
  • The organization’s headquarters is located in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
  • H. E. Mr. Tenzin Lekphell took office as the third BIMSTEC Secretary-General in 2020.
  • The Chairmanship of BIMSTEC rotates based on the alphabetical order of the English names of the Member States.
  • In 2023, India hosted the inaugural meeting of the Governing Board of the BIMSTEC Energy Centre in Bengaluru.

BIMSTEC Principles

  • In BIMSTEC, cooperation will revolve around respecting the principles of equal sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence.
  • BIMSTEC members will refrain from interfering in each other’s internal affairs and avoid aggressive actions, focusing on peaceful coexistence and mutual respect.
  • The collaboration within BIMSTEC is meant to bring mutual benefits and will not replace the need for individual countries to engage in bilateral, sub-regional, regional, or multilateral cooperation.

What is the Significance of BIMSTEC?

Significant Global Weightage:

  1. Approximately 22% of the global population resides in the seven countries bordering the Bay of Bengal, boasting a combined GDP of nearly USD 2.7 trillion.
  2. From 2012 to 2016, all seven of these countries experienced steady economic growth, with annual rates ranging from 3.4% to 7.5%.
  3. Every year, a significant 25% of the world’s traded goods pass through the Bay of Bengal region.

Regional Strategic Incentives:

  1. The BIMSTEC countries have compelling reasons to invest in the growth of the organization.
  2. For example, Bangladesh views BIMSTEC as a valuable platform to enhance its international standing, moving beyond the identity of a small state located along the Bay of Bengal.
  3. Sri Lanka sees BIMSTEC as an exciting opportunity to establish connections with Southeast Asia and position itself as a central hub within the broader Indo-Pacific Region.
  4. Both Nepal and Bhutan have the goal of overcoming their geographical challenges as landlocked nations by linking up with the Bay of Bengal region through BIMSTEC.
  5. Myanmar and Thailand have a keen interest in building stronger ties with India and leveraging the potential of the BIMSTEC framework to access India’s growing consumer market. Additionally, they aim to balance China’s influence in the region and explore alternatives to China’s expanding presence in Southeast Asia.
  6. BIMSTEC offers the prospect of economic integration, collaborative efforts for regional security, and the ability to draw upon shared values and histories as a foundation for peace and development.

Importance for India:

  1. BIMSTEC: Linking South and Southeast Asia while including the Great Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal in its scope.
  2. India’s Perspective: India views BIMSTEC as an ideal platform to give priority to its foreign policy goals of “Neighborhood First” and “Act East.”
  3. BIMSTEC’s Importance: The significance of BIMSTEC became evident when certain member nations supported India’s proposal to boycott the SAARC summit in Islamabad, which ultimately led to its postponement.
  4. India’s Success: This move was seen as a victory for India, as it effectively isolated Pakistan in the international diplomatic arena.

Crucial Against Assertive China:

The Importance of the Bay of Bengal for China’s Access to the Indian Ocean:

China’s growing assertiveness hinges on the crucial role of the Bay of Bengal in maintaining its access to the Indian Ocean.

China’s Infrastructure Drive in South and Southeast Asia:

China has been actively financing and constructing infrastructure in South and Southeast Asia through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), covering all BIMSTEC countries except Bhutan and India.

BIMSTEC as a Battleground in India-China Competition:

BIMSTEC has emerged as a new arena for the ongoing rivalry between India and China, where both nations vie for dominance.

India’s Opportunity to Counter Chinese Investments:

India has the potential to use BIMSTEC as a platform to promote a constructive agenda that counters Chinese investments, focusing on connectivity projects adhering to established international norms.

Concerns Over Chinese Projects Violating International Norms:

Many view Chinese projects in the region as disregarding these recognized international norms for infrastructure and connectivity.

Preserve Peace and Freedom of Navigation:

  1. When we look at the Bay of Bengal, we see a region known for its openness and tranquility, in sharp contrast to China’s actions in the South China Sea.
  2. We can establish guidelines to safeguard the freedom of navigation and enforce existing maritime laws in this area.
  3. Furthermore, BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) has the potential to prevent the slow buildup of military presence in the region. For instance, it could create a Bay of Bengal Zone of Peace aimed at restricting any aggressive actions by external powers.

Way forward

The recent announcements at the latest BIMSTEC summit are a positive development, and we should explore additional steps, like considering a Free Trade Agreement, to unlock the full potential of this regional alliance.

Read Also: Quad as an Indo-Pacific NATO

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