India’s Recent Step: BIMSTEC

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The 20th century, staging of an Atlantic-centered global order, has left its place to the 21st century, where Indo-Pacific-centered developments are experienced. This process, which started with the emergence of economic mobility, dynamic population power and new geopolitical regions, brought the countries of the region to the fore. Countries in the region such as China, India and South Korea have gained significant weight both regionally and globally and have become actors that play a decisive role in international relations.

While Asia was rising economically, politically and culturally on the one hand, it also faced the danger of instability. Especially, China, which entered into global competition with the USA, experienced an increasing conflict with Washington after 2016. Beijing, which expressed early its eagerness for becoming the leader of the world, quickly abandoned its policy of inclusivity and the peaceful rise and shifted into a period of strategic polarization. The new type of Cold War status quo between China and the USA has created challenges for the region as well as opportunities. Undoubtedly, India is one of the countries that take advantage of this opportunity.

New Delhi overshadowed by China in the period of the rise of Asia, has been implementing a comprehensive and inclusive foreign policy in recent period amid the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, US policy of containment of China, the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, the increasingly negative image of China in the West and the recent Ukraine War. Realizing that being an effective actor in the global arena goes through regional peace and energy security, India follows a series of policies in this sense. For instance; Narendra Modi, who took office in 2014, became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit all five Central Asian States.[1] The increasing importance of Central Asia in both trade and security and its underground riches are among the factors that attract Modi to the region. India has also taken steps to strengthen its ties with Gulf nations. In this way, India has guaranteed its own energy and trade security.

Having strong strategic alliances with the West, India has also conducted its relations with Russia, which has lately been subject to Atlantic sanctions, on the sensitive diplomatic ground and has achieved great gains in the defense industry and energy import. Finally, Modi who is trying to establish diplomatic relations with both the Afghan administration and the new Pakistani administration has implemented a kind of principle of “Think Globally, Act Locally”. These opening policies, which started at a time when the polarization increased and the new great game started, are an indication of India’s flexibility, adaptability, geographical advantage and qualified staff.

In order to achieve its objectives, India has brought a unique card into prominence that has its own. The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is the latest step in New Delhi’s efforts to create a regional security architecture. BIMSTEC, which was declared with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration on June 6, 1997, was established to promote economic cooperation between the countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal. Announcing a charter that would put BIMSTEC into an institutional structure at the summit held in 2022, the organization, which had an irregular meeting schedule for many years, and was far from an institutional appearance, should be considered as a signal that will follow a more active program. There are certain reasons for this situation.

BIMSTEC region, although it is seen as a small area and has remained in the background, is home to around 1.5 billion people, that is, nearly 22 percent of the global population with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$2.7 trillion.[2] The recent increase in the strategic value of the Indo-Pacific region has also enhanced the geopolitical and geoeconomic weight of the Bay of Bengal, which is at the center of this region. Because  Bengal, the world’s largest Bay,  geographically dominates the entire eastern side of the Indian Ocean that is the most dynamic region where trade and energy flows take place.

The fact that the area is economically open to investment and provides a wealth of opportunities is another substantial feature. The gap between current infrastructure investments and demand in South Asia is estimated by the Asian Development Bank to be about 160 billion dollars annually.[3] Considering that these needs include physical infrastructures such as ports, bridges, highways, railways, airports as well as digital infrastructures, the regional targets of not only India but also other countries are understandable.

The above-mentioned economic and geopolitical factors are the real justifications for India’s desire to restart BIMSTEC. In addition to these factors, India also views BIMSTEC as a transitional organization that will enable it to move from a regional to a global actor by fostering peace in the area. As is well known, since India announced that it would not attend the SAARC Summit, which was scheduled to take place in Pakistan in 2016 as a result of the tension between Pakistan and India, and subsequently announced that other nations would not go, New Delhi has pushed BIMSTEC ahead of SAARC.  However, considering the power balance and recent developments in 2022, it would not be wrong to say that India’s security is based on a common and win-win approach with countries in the region rather than the exclusion of Pakistan and other countries with which it has problems. In this respect, BIMSTEC can serve as an instrument to help New Delhi start a regional peace process.

The most substantial move against the idea that instability will spread throughout the region will be India’s offer to Pakistan to join BIMSTEC. Additionally, this action, which would broaden BIMSTEC’s geographical scope, will enhance India’s position in global affairs. Because BIMSTEC is an organization that India is the most dominant actor when we compare it to all other organizations in the world. The strengthening of this organization, which puts India at the center, will provide power to New Delhi in the first place. It will be expected that Pakistan will approve its entrance into this organization given the economic situation it is in.

As a matter of fact, it seems that both nations will concentrate on a shared future rather than on the issues encountered in the past because Shahbaz Sharif, Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister, sent peaceful messages to India via Twitter after the election and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi positively responded to these messages. This rapprochement will basically provide India with a more global field of action, not being stuck with regional problems. Pakistan, on the other hand, will have broken some economic monopolies by diversifying its foreign policy. Such a step to be taken in an environment of increasing competition and polarization will make a vital contribution to the regional security architecture.

[1] Ashok Sajjanhar, “India-Central Asia Dialogue Set to Open up Exciting Aeas of Partnership”, India Narrative,, (Date of Accession: 07.07.2021).

[2] Devesh Roy-Mamata Pradhan-Ruchira Boss-Shahidur Rashid, “Conceptual Framework for Linkages and Partnerships in BIMSTEC”, IFRI,, (Date of Accession: 07.07.2021).

[3] “Meeting Asia’s Infrastructure Needs”, Asian Development Bank,, (Date of Accession: 07.07.2021).

Mustafa Cem KOYUNCU
Mustafa Cem Koyuncu, Karabük Üniversitesinde Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünde Master öğrencisi olup Hint-Pasifik Bölgesi, ABD-Çin Rekabeti, uluslararası güvenlik, jeopolitik ve stratejik araştırmalar alanları üzerinde çalışmalar yapmaktadır. Karabük Üniversitesi’nde eğitimine başlamadan önce, Boğaziçi Üniversitesinde Lisans eğitimini tamamlamıştır. Özel sektörde yöneticilik tecrübesi kazanmasının ardından Koyuncu, kariyerine ANKASAM’da devam etmektedir. Koyuncu, ileri seviyede İngilizce bilmektedir.