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BIMSTEC leaders pledge to make a ‘peaceful, prosperous’ Bay region, Bangladesh

BIMSTEC leaders pledge to make a ‘peaceful, prosperous’ Bay region

By Senior Correspondent,

22 June 2019

Leaders of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation or BIMSTEC have promised to make a “peaceful and prosperous” Bay of Bengal region on the 22 years of inception of this grouping of seven countries.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her message said BIMSTEC achieved “some remarkable progress” during 22 years of its existence.

There is “much to be done” to make the organisation an “outcome-oriented” one and ready it for serving the future, she said. Hasina reiterated her commitment to work together to make it a “stronger and more effective organisation” towards making a “peaceful, prosperous and sustainable” Bay of Bengal region.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his message said the people of BIMSTEC countries are “bound together by our intertwined cultures and histories, and have come even closer in recent years through our common purpose of building a peaceful and prosperous Bay of Bengal region”.

“We are committed to the goals of delivering better opportunities and economic prosperity to our people, especially the youth,” he said.

Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand are the other members of the grouping which was established through the adoption of Bangkok Declaration in June 1997.

The aim was to promote cooperation in the areas of trade, investment, technological exchange and other interrelated areas and contribute to peace, progress and prosperity in the region.

June 6 is the ‘BIMSTEC Day’ while the Secretariat in Dhaka will celebrate the day by hosting a reception on June 25.

In spite of the solid foundation of geographical contiguity and shared history and cultural ties, BIMSTEC has yet to make visible progress in advancing concrete cooperation among the member states.

It is now being seen as an alternative to SAARC by some think-tanks following India-Pakistan tensions that led to the postponement of summits since 2016.

BIMSTEC connects South Asia with Southeast Asia, and serves as a platform for inter-regional cooperation between SAARC and ASEAN members.

It accounts for 21 percent of the world population, providing huge potential for trade. But intra-BIMSTEC trade is very low mostly due to what experts say low level of economic integration within the region and a dearth of infrastructure, especially transport connections within those countries.

Hasina in her message said Bangladesh, as a founding member of BIMSTEC, has been “cooperating closely” with the others on issues like facilitation of trade, enhancing economic development, strengthening energy cooperation, increasing connectivity and people-to-people contact, combating terrorism and extremism, and dealing with the adverse effect of climate change, among others.

“Establishment of the BIMSTEC Secretariat in Dhaka in 2014 manifests the resolute commitment of my government to the BIMSTEC process and to regional cooperation for realising the share aspirations of our peoples,” she said.

She wished BIMSTEC all success in future endeavours and renewed her resolve to turn this regional process into a more dynamic, result-oriented and mutually beneficial one.

Prime Minister Modi said in recent years BIMSTEC member states have “intensified” their efforts to enhance regional connectivity, deepen economic ties and achieve regional security.

“The resounding success of the Fourth BIMSTC Summit, held last year in Kathmandu, is a testament to the region’s enduring commitment to result-oriented, multifaceted regional cooperation,” he said.

“For India, BIMSTEC remains a natural platform to fulfil our key foreign policy priorities of ‘neighbourhood first’ and ‘Act East’.”

He thanked the Bangladesh government for hosting the secretariat in Dhaka and congratulated Sri Lanka as the new chair.

“I am certain that BIMSTEC would continue to pave way for a brighter future for its people, built on strong and enduring partnerships among its member states”.

Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering extended his warm felicitations to the people of the member states of the BIMSTEC on the founding anniversary.

“It is an opportune time to reflect on the developments and success achieved in the areas of cooperation and to look forward positively to a more robust regional cooperation,” he said.

“We must continue to work together to nurture the common bonds of friendship and understanding that bind us together as BIMSTEC”.

Myanmar state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi said the Bay of Bengal region’s strategic location serves as a bridge linking South and Southeast Asia.

“An abundance of natural and human resources, together with its deep historical linkages and rich cultural heritages, buttress the greatest potential of the BIMSTEC regional grouping”.

Since its inception, she said, BIMSTEC has been transforming itself into an “efficient platform for cooperation to foster peace, prosperity and sustainable development in the region”.

Prime Minister of Nepal KP Sharma Oli said BIMSTEC region is “full of potentials”.

“Human resources of one billion and half with a large number of young and dynamic workforce, abundance of natural resources, rich history, culture and civilisation, and friendly and cooperative relations among the member countries and peoples all make it a resourceful and dynamic region.

“What it requires is the deepening of cooperation and result-oriented activities on a broader scale with the full utilisation of the existing potentials”.

He also expressed Nepal’s “full support” to the regional cooperation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable Bay of Bengal region.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena also reiterated Colombo’s “strong commitment” to working towards greater regional cooperation through BIMSTEC.

“Sri Lanka remains fully committed to the principles and objectives of the BIMSTEC charter and will continue to play a constructive role as in the past”.

Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, on behalf of his government in the message, said over the years, the Bay of Bengal cooperation has “matured into an important regional player in the Asian region and is an important connector between Southeast Asia and South Asia”.

“However, with the increasing global challenges and uncertainties, BIMSTEC needs to re-strategise itself to become more focused and relevant.

“Thailand is of the view that prioritising BIMSTEC’s 14 areas of cooperation into pillars, finalising BIMSTEC FTA, drafting a BIMSTEC Charter to create a rules-based BIMSTEC should be our priority this year.

“These will lead to more concrete outcomes and create a more modern, dynamic and resilient BIMSTEC. This will ultimately shape BIMSTEC’s competitive identity in the international community,” the Thai foreign minister said.

BIMSTEC Secretary General Ambassador M Shahidul Islam said the Secretariat is “fully committed to the realisation of the goals set by the BIMSTEC leaders”.

“I strongly believe that the time for BIMSTEC has come. The Secretariat will work closely with the member states to ensure that we seize this opportunity to bring tangible benefits to the peoples of the Bay of Bengal region,” he said.