The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit in Kathmandu, Nepal this week will be another milestone for India after the BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit hosted by it in 2016, as the grouping has gradually emerged as a key vehicle to take forward India’s regional, strategic and economic interests.
Why India is so interested in BIMSTEC ?
Two major factors have driven India’s interests in the BIMSTEC forum :-
- First, Stagnation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). This limited both the scope of India’s growing economic aspirations as well as the role it could play in improving regional governance.
- Second, Two recent instances underscore India failed attempts in SAARC.
♣ First, At the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, in 2014, India proposed the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement. However, this could not progress due to resistance from Pakistan. This compelled Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) to sign the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement in 2015.
♣ Second, Pakistan also opted out of the ambitious SAARC Satellite project proposed by India, leading to a change in its name to the South Asia Satellite.
The rationale behind making the BIMSTEC mechanism work is to reassure South Asia that the region can work together to achieve common goals with India playing its due role. India’s desire to link South Asia to the economically dynamic Southeast Asia is also part of this strategy.
A few challenges :-
- Allocating more resources :- India is currently the largest contributor to the BIMSTEC secretariat’s budget. India’s annual contribution was Rs. 2 crore (or 32% of the total secretariat budget) for 2017-18. With the secretariat planning to strengthen its capacity by increasing human resources and the number of officials representing each member state, India may need to consider allocating more resources.
- Counter impression that BIMSTEC is India-Dominated bloc :- In reality, the suspicion was mutual in SAARC — while India was wary of the smaller neighbours ‘ganging up’ against it, the smaller neighbours were worried that closer integration might lead to India’s domination.To moderate such suspicions, India will need to show sensitivity to the concerns of smaller neighbours.
- China :- Another strategic challenge for India is that China has long desired to be part of the SAARC grouping. Some SAARC members also have their own interests in bringing China into the equation: they want it to balance India’s dominance. China has observer status in SAARC.
Conclusion :- India will have to carefully navigate the emerging regional geopolitics, as many of the elements that made SAARC hostage to political rivalry and turned it into a defunct mechanism can re-emerge in BIMSTEC.
About BIMSTEC :-
- The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) 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.
- It constitutes seven Member States: Five deriving from South Asia, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and two from Southeast Asia, including Myanmar and Thailand.
- The BIMSTEC region is home to around 1.5 billion people which constitute around 22% of the global population with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of 2.7 trillion economy.
The objective of building such an alliance was to harness shared and accelerated growth through mutual cooperation in different areas of common interests by mitigating the onslaught of globalization and by utilizing regional resources and geographical advantages.