GP Insights # 67, 12 June 2019
India hosted the leaders of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) countries for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's swearing-in ceremony on 30 May 2019.
What is the background?
BIMSTEC is a sub-regional cooperative organisation comprising seven member states including five South Asian countries India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and two South East Asian countries Myanmar and Thailand. Although BIMSTEC was founded in 1997, India started utilising the organisation only after the failure of SAARC.
What does it mean?
Narendra Modi’s foreign policy 2.0 as the previous one insists on the neighbourhood first policy. Interlinking South-South cooperation and Act East Policy of India is the major agenda behind India’s BIMSTEC ambitions. With the participation of two ASEAN states, Thailand and Myanmar India could significantly expand relations with South East Asian and followingly East Asian countries. Thailand holding the chair of ASEAN this year and being a member of BIMSTEC, India’s South East ambitions would expectedly fruition.
Named after the Bay of Bengal sea, BIMSTEC also has a regional maritime centric construct which has significant similarities with Indo-Pacific strategy. Using the common security space, the organisation in future could engage with the larger Pacific on security and diplomatic ties. The BIMSTEC nations are in good trade relations with China. China invests heavily in BRI projects across BIMSTEC countries. India’s lead role in the area can counter Chinese influence.
Five years back, in 2014 India had hosted the leaders of SAARC countries for Modi’s first term swearing in. Due to India- Pakistan tensions India stays reluctant to go ahead with SAARC initiatives. Compared to SAARC which has a South Asian objective, BIMSTEC is a sector-oriented cooperative organisation with South Asian goals as well as linking India to the South East. All the member states of the SAARC except Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Maldives are members of BIMSTEC. India would go on with BIMSTEC oriented initiatives in the future as it is an influential cooperative organisation to fulfil India’s Act East Policy.