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.
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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.
The Bay of Bengal is gaining relevance as a significant sub-region within the Indo-Pacific. Despite its importance to regional security, there is inadequate financial, physical, and energy connectivity. India must use its strategic and political pre-eminence and influence in the sub-region to pursue deeper connectivity with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal, and Sri Lanka and to block China's growing influence.
The Bay of Bengal is a natural bridge between South and South-East Asia, which New Delhi seeks to optimise. But progress on India's Act East policy has been slow, creating a space for China's Belt and Road Initiative to step into. While India cannot match China’s cheque-book diplomacy, it can use its start-up industry to pursue a combination of physical, technological and financial projects to improve regional connectivity.
The 17th Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) ministerial meeting was held on 1 April 2021. Though the grouping is ready to move forward, a number of obstacles stand in the way of this, including regional tensions, uncertainties surrounding SAARC and China's involvement in the multilateral. As BIMSTEC is to celebrate the silver jubilee of its formation next year, can it achieve its goal, to effect “a paradigm-shift in raising the level of cooperation and regional integration"?
This month marks the beginning of triple celebrations in Bangladesh, including the 50th anniversary of its independence, for which Prime Minister Modi will be traveling to Dhaka as the guest of honour. There is much to celebrate: A country that began as a case study for development is now on top of the global GDP charts. The springboard was achieved through a thriving textiles industry, women's workforce participation, micro finance, liberal investment policies. There is much to learn from this neighbour.
The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) presents a unique opportunity to develop a Blue Economy, with security, sustainability and business profitability as its three pillars. An IOR Defence Ministers' Conclave held on 4 February provided a platform to discuss regional cooperation, linking development with defence, and emphasized India's pivotal position within the IOR.
The record of regional cooperation on rivers since India's independence in 1947 is one of several successes, with some contestations. In contrast to the past when governments strove to divide and share river waters, the endeavor has now shifted to thinking about comprehensive river basin development which makes the process even more complex. India’s policy on transboundary river governance must now also be aware of the increasing importance of Indo-Pacific in the global geopolitics.