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.
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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 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.
The Sino-U.S. contestation is a central tenet of the Indo-Pacific. In this power tussle, the EU strategy for the region provides a new way to engage with partners in the "Third Space" for a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific.
The recently concluded BIMSTEC summit is now a regional intergovernmental organization with a formal charter, giving it a clear mission and legality and a destiny linked to South and South East Asia. It is now better equipped to accelerate economic development for the fifth of the world’s population, which contributes only 4% of global GDP.
BIMSTEC is of special importance to India as it is a crucial link between the Neighbourhood First and Act East policies. This almost 25 year old multilateral can contribute to the Indo-Pacific region by addressing challenges in strategic areas of regional connectivity, security cooperation, free trade, and geoeconomic ties with external partners.
The Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, held in Melbourne on February 11, revealed an ambitious plan for economic and developmental affairs, beyond the security concerns posed by China. Despite differing approaches towards Myanmar and Ukraine, the Quad countries are strengthening their cooperation while maintaining strategic autonomy.
It has been a year since the democratically elected Myanmar government was overthrown in a military coup. Since then, economic instability and the pandemic have taken a toll on the nation. ASEAN's mediatory endeavours and Western sanctions have shown limited results. New Delhi's diplomacy must support ASEAN, while remaining pragmatic and protecting its interests in the country.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla's visit to Myanmar has implications for New Delhi's recognition of the new military government in Naypyidaw. India can support ASEAN to stabilise Myanmar, while also checking Chinese influence in that country. For stability in the neighbourhood is crucial to India's own security.
Last month, an Indian delegation led by Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla, visited Myanmar and met with the military leadership. Bilateral discussions prioritised border security, economic cooperation and refugee issues. New Delhi must carefully balance its relations with Naypyitaw, with a dual focus on cross-border projects and restabilising democratic rule in the country.