Daily Current Affairs – 11th October, 2016DEVENDRA VISHWAKARMA
Developing regional cooperation in Bay of Bengal
- The South Asian subcontinent is looking beyond SAARC for a productive regional forum that is not constrained by Pakistan’s veto.
- Here comes in the Bay of Bengal region which provides an opportunity for a zone of regional cooperation where credits go to multiple recent developments
- The collapse of SAARC summit in Islamabad has made the consideration of alternatives an immediate imperative.
- PM Modi’s special interest in linking South and South East Asia and Bangladesh’s traditional commitment to regionalism is showing alignment to new formation between countries sharing Bay of Bengal waters.
- To support this development, Sri Lankan PM Ranil Wickremesinghe has been approval of Bay of Bengal regionalism.
Sri Lankan boost
- In a series of recent speeches in Tokyo, Jakarta, Singapore and Delhi, Sri Lankan PM laid out an agenda for
- Sub regional cooperation– between Sri Lanka and south Indian states
- Transregional economic integration- among the South and South East Asian nations bordering the Bay of Bengal littoral.
- Sri Lanka and India’s five southern states together have a population of 272 million people and a combined GDP of over $500 billion.
- For Sri Lankan PM, if India and Sri Lanka work together, this economic zone can emerge as one of the world’s most dynamic.
- Meanwhile, Bangladesh has also integrated itself well with eastern subcontinent.
- In a recent visit to India, Sri Lankan PM called for a tripartite trade liberalisation agreement between Lanka, India and Singapore. It also aims for collaboration between these three countries for development of a port in Trincomalee on Sri Lanka’s eastern seaboard.
Rich history and potential of Bay of Bengal
- Bay of Bengal region has a rich history of maritime commerce across the Bay of Bengal between peninsular India, Sri Lanka and South East Asia.
- One of the first trading ventures along the Bay of Bengal was The Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies more commonly referred to as British East India Company.
- Also, as it is centrally located in the region from the Middle East to the Philippine Sea and being in centre of two huge economic blocks, the SAARC and ASEAN, it has a strategic importance.
- Bay of Bengal could become Caribbean rival as a high-end tourist destination. There can be cruise liners sailing from Kochi to Singapore via Maldives, Sri Lanka, Andamans and Thailand.
- There is enormous possibilities for regional economic cooperation among the members of the BIMSTEC forum that brings five nations from South Asia — Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka — and two from South East Asia — Myanmar and Thailand — under one umbrella of international free trade around the Bay of Bengal.
- For India, BIMSTEC or Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation has been on top of mind.
- There also have been suggestions for including Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore into the BIMSTEC forum.
- Even before SAARC crisis, India had decided to invite the leaders of the BIMSTEC to the outreach segment of the BRICS summit in Goa. Thus, now India has the chance to breathe in new life into BIMSTEC that had remained moribund since its formation two decades ago.
- There was another regional forum which was formed by four contiguous states BBIN- Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and India- after Pakistan’s reluctance to sign on to the South Asian connectivity agreements at the SAARC summit in Kathmandu in November 2014.
- It presaged the prospect of the Bay of Bengal emerging as a vehicle for regional cooperation.
- The BBIN constitutes a natural sub-region of the Subcontinent. Besides shared land borders, they all have a big stake in the Bay of Bengal.
- For the two landlocked Himalayan states, Bhutan and Nepal, the shortest sea access is to the Bay of Bengal and it runs through the two coastal states — Bangladesh and India.
- China has also shown considerable interest in this region as for parts of southwestern China too, the Bay of Bengal is the nearest sea. Also, China has promoted the idea of sub-regional collaboration among China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India.
- Today, these countries are part of China’s OBOR initiative. Though India is wary of OBOR, especially the western corridor through Pakistan and the central corridor through Nepal, it is more open to engaging China on the eastern corridor.
- The new hopes for Bay of Bengal ride on the fact that Lanka and Bangladesh have long been champions of regionalism.
- When India was strong about its self-imposed economic isolation in 1960s and early 1970s, Sri Lanka was eager to join the ASEAN institutions.
- It was Bangladesh which took lead in promoting the SAARC idea in 1980s. Today, it also hosts the secretariat for the BIMSTEC.
- Thus, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, two of India’s neighbours cum partners in Bay of Bengal are raring to go forward in uniting the Bay of Bengal.
- India too now has the opportunity to demonstrate that it can do a lot better in the Bay of Bengal when Pakistan did not allow any such close cooperation between member countries in SAARC.
- China is another factor which India has to consider for pepping up its important role in strategically important Bay of Bengal. China is trying to make its room in Indian Ocean and thus India has to be equally aggressive in protecting its maritime interests in the region.
- PM Modi’s meeting with the leaders of Bay of Bengal in Goa during the BRICS provides a big opportunity to set a new agenda for regional cooperation under the BIMSTEC forum where dynamic issues such as coastal shipping, counter-terrorism, development of underwater resources in the Bay to protecting the marine environment can be undertaken.
Connecting the dots:
- India has to aggressively maintain and develop its interest in two strategically important maritime regional organisations. Discuss in detail the organisations and how they can help India to establish itself as regionally strong power.
- SAARC might soon lose relevance owing to one neighbour who is supporting terrorism. What are India’s options to establish itself as a regional power and how should India develop its character as a regional power?
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