5th BIMSTEC Summit
Tue, 05 Apr 2022

5th BIMSTEC Summit

In News

The 5th Summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) was hosted by the Sri Lanka in Colombo in hybrid mode on 30th March 2022. 

About the Summit

  • The Summit was preceded by the 18th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting and the 22nd BIMSTEC Senior Officials’ Meeting.
  • It was held under the theme “BIMSTEC – Towards a Resilient Region, Prosperous Economies, Healthy Peoples”.
  • Sri Lanka is the current chair of the BIMSTEC. Thailand would be the next chair.

Key outcomes of the 5th BIMSTEC Summit

  • Adoption of the BIMSTEC Charter, which formalizes the grouping into an international organization made up of member states that are littoral to, and dependent upon, the Bay of Bengal.
  • Rationalized Areas of cooperation under BIMSTEC. The 14 areas of cooperation under BIMSTEC have been rationalized to 7 pillars of cooperation. Henceforth, each of the member countries will lead one pillar. India will lead the security pillar of the BIMSTEC.
    • It also instructs the BIMSTEC Secretariat to develop Plans of Action in consultation with Lead Countries of the reconstituted Sectors and Sub-Sectors to guide their activities and to establish necessary institutional mechanisms to carry out their respective mandates.
  • BIMSTEC Masterplan on Transport Connectivity: The adoption of the ‘Master Plan for Transport Connectivity’ lays out a guidance framework for connectivity related activities in the region in the future.
  • Signing of the following legal instruments:
    • BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters.
    • Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Mutual Cooperation between Diplomatic Academies/Training Institutions of BIMSTEC Member States.
    • Memorandum of Association on Establishment of BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility in Colombo. 

BIMSTEC : From Evolution to Growing Relevance

  • BIMSTEC includes countries of the Bay of Bengal region, and seeks to act as a bridge between South and Southeast Asia. Originally formed as BIST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand Economic Cooperation) in 1997, it became BIMST-EC after Myanmar joined, and BIMSTEC in 2004 with the inclusion of Nepal and Bhutan.
  • In the mid-2010s, BIMSTEC gained attention as India-Pakistan tensions began to hamstrung SAARC. Later in 2016, India held a joint BRICS-BIMSTEC Summit in Goa for the latter’s regional outreach. After this, the support for BIMSTEC gained further momentum.
  • Some key agreements signed by BIMSTEC members include a convention for combating terrorism, transnational organised crime and illicit drug trafficking. However, this awaits ratification.
  • Another is the BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection, signed during the 2018 BIMSTEC Summit, which aims to promote an optimal power transmission in the BIMSTEC region.
  • In the current pandemic situation, BIMSTEC becomes the platform for stronger collective action among member states and assist the member countries to efficiently distribute the COVID-19 vaccines.
  • The Bay of Bengal has grown in strategic significance within the Indo-Pacific, especially due to the contest between India and China. Hence, its littoral countries are keen to re-engage with one another. A natural platform to reinforce these ties and develop avenues of cooperation is the BIMSTEC — the regional organisation exclusive to the Bay.
  • The reason small nations in the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean are turning to regional blocs like BIMSTEC is because they gain higher economic dividends from regional blocks than fragmented multilateralism promoted by the World Trade Organization (WTO).
  • Relevance for Member States - Win-win for nations
    • Bangladesh views BIMSTEC as a platform to position itself as more than just a small state on the Bay of Bengal, and Sri Lanka sees it as an opportunity to connect with Southeast Asia and serve as the subcontinent’s hub for the wider Indo-Pacific region.
    • Nepal and Bhutan aim to connect with the Bay of Bengal region and escape their landlocked geographic positions. 
    • For Myanmar and Thailand, connecting more deeply with India would allow them to access a rising consumer market and, at the same time, balance Beijing and develop an alternative to China’s massive inroads into Southeast Asia.
    • For India, the region’s largest economy, a lot is at stake.
      • Prime Minister has reiterated time and again that BIMSTEC not only connects South and Southeast Asia, but also the ecologies of the Great Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal. With shared values, histories, ways of life, and destinies that are interlinked, BIMSTEC represents a common space for peace and development.
      • For India, it is a natural platform to fulfil its key foreign policy priorities of ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’.

The Growing Significance of BIMSTEC in India’s Foreign Policy

In this dynamic world, India has to foster a foreign policy which incorporates the smooth conduct of regional relationships through multilateral partnerships enabling mutual cooperation and growth. Being a prominent actor in South Asia and with SAARC proving to be insufficient, India is now eyeing towards BIMSTEC thereby striving to materialize its key foreign policy priorities.

Events signifying India’s shift from SAARC to BIMSTEC

  • BIMSTEC revitalizes India’s regional cooperation in the Bay of Bengal region along with deepening its relations with ASEAN. 
  • Strategic shift from SAARC to BIMSTEC happened after the recent strains in the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan making India to look for a parallel platform devoid of Pakistan.
  • The importance of maritime neighbourhood along with continental neighbours and India’s need to negate the Chinese influence further added to the shift in focus to BIMSTEC. 
  • In addition, the trade agreement like the SAARC Preferential Trade Agreement (SAAFTA) and other such initiatives of SAARC are not yet realized and there exits suspicion and disparity in the balance of power within SAARC leaving India to find an alternative in BIMSTEC.
  • The invitation by the Prime Minister of India to BIMSTEC leaders for his second swearing in ceremony instead of SAARC leaders indicated the shift of India’s foreign policy towards east affirming the importance of India’s Neighbourhood First and Act East Policy in the coming years. 
  • The COVID-19 pandemic further increased the opportunity for India to collaborate with its neighbours rigorously providing a new dimension to foreign policy implementation and diplomacy.

For India, the strategic significance of BIMSTEC forms the crux of its foreign policy.

  • The Bay of Bengal is the largest bay in the world which is strategically located linking the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean and acts as a connection to the Strait of Malacca.
  • Carrying one fourth of the global trade, it becomes the access point to India for resources including energy source like natural gas reserves and securing this economically significant region is important for India to enlarge its export market.
  • The significance of BIMSTEC is also due to its regional integration and maritime security factors where India can also realize its ‘blue economy’ ambitions.
  • The organisation also enables connectivity and development projects of India like the SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) initiative which strengthens the economic, maritime and security cooperation through the sharing of information, surveillance measures and increased capabilities in the Indian Ocean region.
  • The India- Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway which is under talks to extend it further to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Corridor, and the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) initiative are the focus areas of BIMSTEC.
  • With China’s aggressive nature in various areas including the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) through strategies like debt trap, BIMSTEC helps India in countering China multilaterally. This requires economic, political, security and maritime cooperation that is enabled through this organization.
  • Development of Northeast Region: BIMSTEC connects India’s northeast with BIMSTEC countries and acts as a platform to realize India’s Neighbourhood First Policy and Act East Policy. The cooperation enables economic development in the region, removing its isolated nature and address the issues faced by the region and also provides better connectivity.
    • The connectivity and mutual development in the region are also enhanced through cooperation in the maritime area by connecting inland waterways providing access to landlocked states, facilitating movements of resources and also ensures the security by integrating the coastal guards of the states concerned.

BIMSTEC: Challenges before India

  • The impression of BIMSTEC being an India-dominated bloc and the overlap of countries and interests in both SAARC and BIMSTEC pose as a challenge to India-BIMSTEC cooperation. Meanwhile the dependency of BIMSTEC members on China hinders the complete realization of India’s national interest.
  • The trump card used by Nepal as its position as a buffer state between India and China, make India go lenient towards Nepal. The withdrawal of Nepal from the BIMSTEC joint military exercise in 2018 proves this implying the disparity of interest among member states in the smooth conduct of the organization.
  • Current geopolitical scenario will also be a challenge. The aggressiveness of China in the South China Sea and its assertive nature in Nepal along with China’s strong economic and military engagement with other South Asian nations other than India need to be accounted into for smooth functioning of BIMSTEC. 

Conclusion: BIMSTEC is the only platform through which India can project and extract its interests in South Asia without a hindrance from Pakistan, also enabling India to counter the Chinese influence in its neighbourhood. To ensure the effective utilization of the potential of BIMSTEC, the organization has to prioritize the connectivity initiatives and has to open up to extend the cooperation via powers like Australia, Japan and United States.


Question: BIMSTEC is an important pillar in the South Asian geo-political order. Discuss the statement in the context of the 5th BIMSTEC summit.



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