July 3, 2023

Role of BIMSTEC in the Indian Ocean Region

Written By: Tenzin Lekphell

The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation – BIMSTEC– consists of countries around the Bay of Bengal, which is an integral part of the Indian Ocean. Five of our Member States are from South Asia: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka; and two are from Southeast Asia: Myanmar, and Thailand. BIMSTEC is therefore often perceived as an organisation that forms a bridge between South and Southeast Asia.

Formed in 1997, BIMSTEC has gained new vigour with the adoption of its Charter last year – during the 5th BIMSTEC Summit held in Colombo.The Charter which confers legal personality on BIMSTEC – identifies among its purposes – the maintenance of peace and stability in the Bay of Bengal region – through close collaboration in combating international terrorism, transnational organized crime – as well as natural disasters, climate change, and communicable diseases.

The Charter, among others, also lists as BIMSTEC’s purposes: -The maintenance of close and beneficial cooperation with existing international and regional organizations with similar aims and purposes; -Creating an enabling environment for rapid economic development; accelerating economic growth and social progress; providing assistance to each other; and cooperating more effectively in joint efforts that are supportive of – and complementary to national development plans of the Member States – which result in tangible benefits to the people in raising their living standards.

To ensure that the Indian Ocean Region is peaceful, prosperous, and resilient, the countries in the region need to strengthen existing partnerships between themselves; with Indian Ocean Users; as well as others – both Organisations and States. BIMSTEC in this connection, can serve as an important and central tool for its Member States and like-minded partners – to work towards maintaining peace and achieving prosperity for a resilient Indian Ocean Region.

Making use of the BIMSTEC Charter provisions, that enable BIMSTEC to cooperate with international and regional organisations; admit States, regional organisations & international organisations as Observers; and also admit new Members – are important aspects in this regard.

The Bay of Bengal region that makes up BIMSTEC is a home to about 1.8 billion people. This is a substantial percentage of the population of the Indian Ocean Region which is considered to be around 2.7 billion. The combined GDP of the BIMSTEC countries is considered to be over 3.6 trillion US dollars. Considering the geographic location of the Member States that make up the Organisation, BIMSTEC can be considered central as an Indian Ocean Hub – in both security and economic terms; and for achieving sustainable development – consistent with the BIMSTEC Charter.

Evolving BIMSTEC to play such a central role requires commitment, creativity, innovation, sustained political will, openness, and vision among the BIMSTEC Member States. It also requires consistent hard work to forge ties – with like-minded partner nations and organisations – across the Indian Ocean Region & beyond.

We all are committed to a shared vision of an Indian Ocean – built on peace, security, stability & prosperity. As a state-led and government-driven Organisation, the BIMSTEC Member States – set the Agenda for BIMSTEC. And we hope that the BIMSTEC Member States will ensure that BIMSTEC evolves and grows in a manner in which it can play a central role in achieving this shared vision.

Author Brief Bio: Mr. Tenzin Lekphell is the Secretary-General of BIMSTEC.

Note: This article is based on the Text of the Speech delivered by Mr. Tenzin Lekphell, Secretary-General of BIMSTEC, at the 6th Indian Ocean Conference 2023 in Dhaka on 13 May 2023

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