Strong regional grouping
BIMSTEC is an important platform to boost cooperation among member countries
Working in tandem to give a boost to the Government’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’ policy, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is in Kathmandu to attend the 15th Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) ministerial meeting on August 10-11. Apart from discussing key issues of multi-sectoral and economic cooperation, the gathering also gives an opportunity to the countries of the grouping to exchange ideas on new developments and prepare a roadmap for future engagements. BIMSTEC is a regional organisation of seven countries — India, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand — lying in the littoral or adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal. It came into existence in June 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration, bringing together 1.5 billion people, which represents roughly 21 per cent of the world’s population. The grouping has a combined gross domestic product of over $2.5 trillion. Besides, the regional group acts as a bridge between South and Southeast Asia and represents a reinforcement of relations among countries. While priorities at present remain at working for regional peace and economic cooperation, it is also time to promote BIMSTEC as a model of regionalism and an effective global player. Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year in Goa took a unique initiative to bring BIMSTEC and Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) leaders together for interaction and look for spheres of convergence. Leaders discussed the potential for cooperation in counter-terrorism, trade, energy, investment and capital flows, environment, technology, infrastructure and human development as well as funding by the Brics New Development Bank for BIMSTEC projects.
India is the lead country in cooperation in four priority areas — counter-terrorism and trans-national crime, transport and communication, tourism and environment, and disaster management. Incidentally, the last BIMSTEC-Brics meeting of top leaders held in Goa came at the time of heightened tension between India and Pakistan relations that had eventually led to the cancellation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit. Five of the seven BIMSTEC member countries who are also members of Saarc had strongly backed India at that point of time and urged Pakistan to create a conducive environment for the summit. The BISMETC Foreign Ministers meeting this time is taking place against the backdrop of border tension between India and China in Doklam. Swaraj had bilateral meetings with the Nepalese leadership and her counterparts of the other countries, and it is a good opportunity for India to explain its position on Doklam. However, all eyes are on the bilateral meeting between Swaraj and her Bhutanese counterpart Damcho Dorji, who will be meeting for the first time ever since the Doklam incident took place on June 16.
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