The Indo-Pacific region envisages the Indian and Pacific Oceans as a continuum and stands on two central pillars – maritime security and economic development. The public discussions, however, are focused on maritime security, strategy and geopolitics, while economic development has received less attention. This imbalance can be corrected by creating an awareness on how to harness the potential of the region's Blue Economy and its vast resources and opportunities.
Hailed as historic, the new global rules to curb harmful fishing subsidies is a step towards sustainable fishery practices. The negotiated deal, however, is fraught with concerns over overcapacity in fisheries, deep-sea fishing legislations, and blue finance. It may be better for developing countries to formulate their own regulations and set up mechanisms to prevent illegal fishing within their territorial waters – and hold the WTO agreement to its word.
ASEAN centrality is not what it used to be. Covid, post-pandemic economic recovery, the Ukraine crisis and the challenge of China all tested ASEAN capabilities to manage them. It is now up to ASEAN to work out its unity and centrality with a greater sense of responsibility.
June 6, 2022, marks 25 years since India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar and Thailand joined hands to create BIMSTEC and infuse South Asia with economic and institutional cooperation. The strategic geography of this grouping has the potential to bring new synergy between South Asia and the recently-instituted Indo Pacific Economic Framework, ASEAN and the Quad, for a prosperous, secure Bay of Bengal Community.
The Quad has agreed to launch a satellite-based maritime security initiative to curb illegal fishing by China. India is a global leader in satellite launches, especially in Earth Observation (EO) satellites. The Indo-Pacific nations are looking at the Indian model because it is applicable, economical, and sustainable.
The BIMSTEC charter has laid the foundations for a prosperous, peaceful, and sustainable Bay of Bengal region, a goal that can be achieved by greater integration and deeper collaboration. While ensuring continuity with past efforts and strengthening economic cooperation is necessary, it must also realise its potential in newer areas such as the blue economy, which has three interlinked pillars— connectivity, prosperity, and regional stability.
The recently concluded ASEAN-U.S. Summit has raised the bilateral cooperation to a strategic comprehensive partnership. Key areas of cooperation were identified and global health, SDGs, maritime security and connectivity, and the Ukrainian war dominated the dialogue. The meeting is significant in light of the May 24 Quad Summit, where it is important for the US to have its engagement with ASEAN visible.
The rejuvenated BIMSTEC, with a new charter in hand, is now expanding its ambition and mission. One such area is climate change, which needs greater attention as it will have implications for the Bay of Bengal and beyond. With their unique climate conditions and action plans can together create a model for regional cooperation.
China has established a dominant presence in the Indo-Pacific through exploitative economic engagements. This has destabilised smaller nations in the region and made them dependent on Chinese support. For a free and open Indo-Pacific, India must press its advantage in human and economic capacity building.
On 6 October 2021, Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, Distinguished Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies Programme, spoke to Dr. Pramod Jaiswal, Strategic Affairs Editor at Khabarhub on the role of Nepal in BIMSTEC and SAARC, in an analysis of the 17th BIMSTEC ministerial meetings. He also highlighted the role of SAARC and BIMSTEC in countering Chinese influence in the region.