BIMSTEC is a key platform for India

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BIMSTEC is a key platform for India

Friday, 29 October 2021 | KUMARDEEP BANERJEE

BIMSTEC is a key platform for India

India has followed the policy of military sovereignty for defending its borders

India has done well by throwing its hat in the ring during the initial meetings of what is being loosely called the 'second QUAD' in West Asia. The coming together of Israel, UAE, USA and India is a direct fallout of the Abraham accord. The tie-up offers a glimpse into the foreign policy trajectory of nations in a post-COVID world. The US, acting as key negotiator for the Abraham accord, joining the group of four nations as a strategic partner marks its willingness to act as a key influencer in the oil-rich middle-east economies while moving away from siloed interaction with individual nations in the region. Towards securing its global interests, the US has already accelerated its multilateral engagements by quickly summoning an in-person meeting of QUAD countries this September and signing a trilateral military strategic partnership with Australia and UK (AUKUS). The US has cleverly placed the UK right at the heart of the military alliance in the Indo-Pacific region. It has also ring-fenced the Indo-Pacific by the promise of providing nuclear capability submarines to Australia, a clear alert for China. Third, the US has also managed to give India the liberty of staying in strategic alliances and engage on multilateral platforms without being obligated to get into military alliances. One must remember here that India has refrained from getting into military alliances (like NATO or AUKUS) and has followed policy of military sovereignty for defending its borders. India, meanwhile, has also managed to break away from the bunch of bilateral negotiations it has been holding with each of the QUAD nations and Israel, UAE and managed to discuss the issues of 21st century at multilateral platforms. In a sign of maturing diplomacy and increased awareness of the changed world order, India very slowly has drifted towards being a key influencer on multilateral platforms and is willing to pick the mantle of leadership at appropriate time. This also means that the erstwhile regional alliances of which India has been a founder such as BIMSTEC and SAARC will need to evolve for the next level of engagement. BIMSTEC (regional partnership of seven South and South East Asian countries) celebrates the silver jubilee of its establishment next year and marks the ripe time for strategic change of course. As highlighted in India's foreign secretary's address to BIMSTEC representatives a few days ago “the BIMSTEC process was marked by a high degree of informality, without an institutional structure”.

There are major areas of strategic cooperation chartered between the BIMSTEC countries consisting of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. One of the most crucial aspects of this alliance is providing robust connectivity for ensuring a safe route for citizens and goods. This is a crucial aspect of the relationship where India has rightfully placed itself in the center of the infrastructure developments. It fits in well with India's Indo-Pacific strategy as well, since many of these nations share boundaries with China and also have maritime interests in the Indian ocean region. The group has agreed upon 264 projects requiring nearly $160billion for developing a multimodal transport corridor for the region. This is a sharp retort to the coercive Belt and Road Initiative of China, as it follows a multilateral approach with no country obligated to give up some of its sovereign rights for infrastructure development. The second aspect of cooperation between these South Asian and Southeast Asian nations rests on the pillar of energy. The proposal of developing a an interconnected BIMSTEC electricity grid is a good example of future of energy security. India has begun well at BIMSTEC and should keep its momentum high.

(The writer is a policy analyst. The views expressed are personal.)

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