Cohesion and co-operation: On power imbalances in BIMSTEC 

News: Recently, the fifth Summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) was held.

In the summit, BIMSTEC Charter, and Master Plan for Transport Connectivity were adopted among other things. 

What are the challenges facing the BIMSTEC 

The Rohingya crisis has weakened the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar. For example, Dhaka wants all the refugees to be repatriated to Myanmar and Myanmar is not responding positively.  

How is BIMSTEC important for India? 

India will be leading the ‘security pillar’ out of the seven designated pillars of the revived BIMSTEC. It will give a boost to regional aspirations of India, which were not fulfilled by the SAARC. The SAARC has been facing various roadblocks and has not met since November 2014.  

India does not have any sharp disagreements or hostilities with members of BIMSTEC unlike SAARC. The latter one is burdened by India-Pakistan hostilities. Thus, it would provide a co-operative environment for India. 

India has opted not to be part of China-led RCEP. Therefore, BIMSTEC, a regional grouping of countries which are in close proximity to India, may provide it with a lot of opportunities. 

Way Forward  

The sustained bilateral and group-level discussions are required to prevent problems like the Rohingya crisis to act as a roadblock in the functioning of the grouping and implementation of the decisions.  

India should ensure continued political engagement with Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. This would ensure smooth bilateral and group-level working relationships. 

India should take a leadership role in the region. It can start with promoting cross-border connectivity; lowering barriers to the movement of people and goods; and promoting flow of investments. 

In order to boost intraregional trade and economic ties, a ‘coastal shipping ecosystem’ and an interconnected electricity grid is required.  In this context, India’s PM has also called for a BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement 

The BIMSTEC members should learn from the security- and trade-related issues which troubled SAARC and SAFTA 

Source: The post is based on an article “Cohesion and co-operation: On power imbalances in BIMSTEC” published in The Hindu on 1st April 2022. 

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