BIMSTEC : Analysis – UPSC GS2

About BIMSTEC:
  • The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is an international organization involving a group of countries in South Asia and South East Asia.
  • Initially, BIMSTEC was a grouping of four nations (India, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka) formed through the Bangkok Declaration of 1997. Its aim was to promote rapid economic development.
  • Later, three more countries (Myanmar, Nepal, and Bhutan) also included in BIMSTEC.
  • The progress under BIMSTEC was slow in the first 2 decades of its establishment. For instance, only 3 summits were held in the first 20 years.
  • However, After the failure of SAARC, India changed its foreign policy to treat it as a more important instrument for regional cooperation.
  • The BIMSTEC now comprises of seven countries, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand
  • The BIMSTEC region is home to around 1.5 billion people which constitute around 22% of the global population
Why BIMSTEC is important for India?
The BIMSTEC is a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia. The two Southeast Asian countries in the grouping, Myanmar and Thailand, have a crucial place for India’s ambitious connectivity plans for North Eastern region. Myanmar is only Southeast Asian country India has a land boundary with. An India-Myanmar-Thailand highway is one of the key projects that figures in a big way in the government’s Act East (earlier Look East) policy.
Achievements:
  • BIMSTEC has achieved much progress in the fields of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief and security, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and coastal security cooperation.
  • Also, the academic and strategic community actively interact through the BIMSTEC Network of Policy Think Tanks.
What are the issues that are hampering the progressive development of BIMSTEC?
  • India, the largest member of the grouping, has often been criticized for not providing a strong leadership to BIMSTEC.
  • Both Thailand and Myanmar are criticized for having ignored BIMSTEC in favor of ASEAN.
  • Absence of a permanent secretariat for a long time and lack of commitment to invest in several priority areas.
  • Formation of another sub-regional initiative, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Forum, with the proactive membership of China, created more doubts about the exclusive potential of BIMSTEC.
  • Lack of cordial bilateral relations between its member states. For instance, India-Nepal, India-Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh-Myanmar ties are not good, due to political, economic, and social reasons.
  • BIMSTEC members Nepal and Sri Lanka want a revival of the SAARC summit.
  • Growing influence of China in South Asia is another threat to BIMSTEC cooperation.
  • Ongoing military coup in Myanmar and popular protest against the military coup is a new practical challenge.
  • Apathy towards holding regular annual summits. For instance, while most of the regional organisation (SCO, ASEAN, G20) were able to meet at a high political level even during the Pandemic, BIMSTEC leaders failed to meet.
Significance of the Bay of Bengal region:
  • Ecological:
    • Bay of Bengal region is home to a large network of estuaries, mangrove forests, coral reefs, sea grass meadows and mass nesting sites of sea turtles. This makes the region ecologically critical.
  • Social:
    • The region supports a coastal population of approximately 185 million people. The fishermen population alone is estimated to be around 3.7 million.
  • Economic:
    • The blue economy potential of the Bay of Bengal is huge. There are many opportunities to develop maritime trade, shipping, aquaculture and tourism.
    • The annual fish catch in the region is around six million tonnes. This constitutes around 7% of the world’s annual fish catch and is valued at around $4 billion USD.
Concerns about Bay of Bengal region:
  • Ecological degradation
  • Loss of mangroves and corals.
  • Untreated waste water flows into sea.
  • Unsustainable fishing practices.
  • Vulnerability to disasters mainly cyclones and tsunamis.
  • Security threats
Related Questions:
  • Can BIMSTEC be a replacement for SAARC?