Authors: Harsha V Pant and K. Yhome
Q.1. India has taken a renewed interest in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). What are the reasons? What are the challenges to India’s involvement in the BIMSTEC? – 200 words
Q.2. India’s involvement in BIMSTEC would face challenges both from inside and outside the country. Comment. – 150 words.
Q.3. India has been taking a keen interest in revitalizing the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). How increased participation in BIMSTEC benefit India? Do you think BIMSTEC can be taken as a replacement to South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)? – 250 words).
(Why in news recently: The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit in Kathmandu was held in August, 2018).
The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is an international organisation of seven nations of South Asia and South East Asia, housing 1.5 billion people and having a combined gross domestic product of $3.5 trillion (2018). The BIMSTEC member states—Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand , Nepal and Bhutan—are among the countries dependent on the Bay of Bengal.
BIMSTEC has gradually emerged as a key vehicle to take forward India’s regional, strategic and economic interests.
BIMSTEC and SAARC
A key reason for India to reach out to its BIMSTEC neighbours has been the stagnation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). This limited both the scope of India’s growing economic aspirations as well as the role it could play in improving regional governance. India has unsuccessfully attempted to revitalize the SAARC and thus there has been a renewed focus on the BIMSTEC. Two recent instances underscore its failed attempts at revitalizing the SAARC. At the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, in 2014, India proposed the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement. However, this could not progress due to resistance from Pakistan. This compelled Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) to sign the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement in 2015. Pakistan also opted out of the ambitious SAARC Satellite project proposed by India, leading to a change in its name to the South Asia Satellite.
The Pakistan Question – There is no intention on the part of India to push Pakistan out of the block. The two instances highlight that Pakistan chose to stay out of the Motor Vehicles Agreement and the SAARC Satellite Project. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, regional integration in South Asia would go ahead “through SAARC or outside it, among all of us or some of us,” keeping the doors open for those outside to join when they felt confortable to do so.The main motivation for India to push BIMSTEC is thus not Pakistan; rather, it is in the country’s interest to ensure that the region does not lag behind and that an unstable neighbourhood does not drag its growth. India’s desire to link South Asia to the economically dynamic Southeast Asia is also part of this strategy.
Challenges to India’s involvement in BIMSTEC
- Allocation of resources: India is currently the largest contributor to the BIMSTEC secretariat’s budget. India’s annual contribution was Rs. 2 crore (or 32% of the total secretariat budget) for 2017-18. With the secretariat planning to strengthen its capacity by increasing human resources and the number of officials representing each member state, India may need to consider allocating more resources. India’s generosity would be a key test of its commitment to the subregional grouping.
- Fear of domination by India: Another issue would be for India to counter the impression that BIMSTEC is an India-dominated bloc, a problem that it faced for a long time in SAARC. In reality, the suspicion was mutual in SAARC — while India was wary of the smaller neighbours ‘ganging up’ against it, the smaller neighbours were worried that closer integration might lead to India’s domination. Today, most of the smaller neighbours are more willing to engage so as to benefit from India’s economic rise. Nonetheless, for internal political reasons, the same issue may re-emerge and pose hurdles in the progress of BIMSTEC. To moderate such suspicions, India will need to show sensitivity to the concerns of smaller neighbours.
- The China Question: Another strategic challenge for India is that China has long desired to be part of the SAARC grouping. Some SAARC members also have their own interests in bringing China into the equation: they want it to balance India’s dominance. China has observer status in SAARC. When this was given, it only increased the demand to make China a full member of SAARC. India will have to carefully navigate the emerging regional geopolitics, as many of the elements that made SAARC hostage to political rivalry and turned it into a defunct mechanism can re-emerge in BIMSTEC.
Read the full article at The Hindu.