Home Contact Us  

South Asia - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#4343, 17 March 2014

Dhaka Discourse

East Meets West: Bangladesh and the BIMSTEC Summit
Delwar Hossain
Professor, Department of International Relations, Dhaka University

The third Summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), held in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw from 3-4 March ended with the call to achieve collective prosperity for the region. BIMSTEC was expanded into a new transnational structure of cooperation following the inclusion of Nepal and Bhutan in 2004. It now encompasses states from both South and Southeast Asia, with over 22 per cent of the world population and a collective GDP of nearly $2 trillion.

The group commands enormous geopolitical and geoeconomic significance for regional and extra-regional powers. Although the Summit was held belatedly, the organization demands attention owing to its overwhelming thrust on trade, energy and agriculture. Notably, it offers an opportunity for inter-regional cooperation as a vital ingredient of new regionalism in the age of globalisation.

The Summit was particularly significant to Bangladesh and the current Government for both bilateral and multilateral tracks of diplomacy. As one of the founding members of the group, Bangladesh has always supported the BIMSTEC. This year’s summit was the first occasion where the recently re-elected government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina marked a strong diplomatic presence. Hasina led a 54-member delegation to the Summit.

On the multilateral front, Bangladesh actively participated in the BIMSTEC proceedings to advance the goal of regional development, peace and stability. During this Summit, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister strongly pushed for advancement on issues such as regional security, prosperity and counter-terrorism. Bangladesh identified poverty as the “main and common enemy” of the region and stressed the need for inter-state connectivity for the development of the people of the region.

Another major achievement was the decision to establish the permanent secretariat of BIMSTEC in Bangladesh, with all member-countries sharing costs – and India will be the biggest contributor, footing 32 per cent of the costs. Although the decision to establish the secretariat in Dhaka was taken in January 2011, the process was put in place this year, and according to the 14th ministerial meeting, the permanent secretariat would start functioning in Dhaka from May 2014.

On the bilateral front, the Summit had been an occasion of intensive diplomatic efforts to strengthen ties with Myanmar and India. The Bangladeshi prime minister met the heads of governments of Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan. It was a pleasant occasion for Sheikh Hasina to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Bangladesh and India have come a long way over the past five years, in improving and then strengthening bilateral ties. Both prime ministers met twice at summit level meetings in their respective countries resulting in them developing a strong mutual understanding.

Sheikh Hasina and Manmohan Singh met on the sidelines of this year’s BIMSTEC Summit and the two prime ministers discussed issues of bilateral interests including cooperation in the areas of the power sector, trade, investment, and the implementation of the previously agreed decisions between the two countries. Both the leaders held discussions in an environment of fraternity and termed their bilateral relations as a “tested friendship.”

However, despite the camaraderie, it was a huge disappointment for Bangladesh, for the country could not ensure progress on the two key agreements – the Land Boundary Agreement and the Teesta Water Sharing Agreement. Sheikh Hasina raised these issues in her talks with the high-powered Indian delegation and emphasised on more balanced and equitable bilateral relations. Bangladesh also made a much-needed and genuine observation that Bangladesh, India, Bhutan and Nepal could resolve their domestic electricity demands via joint endeavours by constructing hydropower plants. Though the current Indian government is at the end of its term, these issues remain critical for a genuine bilateral friendship.

Furthermore, India and Bangladesh presented their respective ‘look east policies’ to achieve goals of mutual interest. Bangladesh demonstrated substantive engagement with the Myanmarese leadership at this Summit. Sheikh Hasina met the President of Myanmar, Thein Sein, the Speaker of the Parliament of Myanmar, Thura U Shwe Mann, and the Chair of the National League for Democracy and Member of the Parliament, Aung Saan Suu Kyi, on the sidelines. The two leaders identified the importance of connectivity via land, water and air to pave way for increased trade and investment and people-to-people contacts. President Thein Sein offered the use the Myanmar’s port facilities to Bangladesh, if required. He apprised Sheikh Hasina of her government’s initiative of constructing a seaport in Sittwe and Kyakpyu.

At present, the Bangladesh-Myanmar bilateral trade stands at $100 million, and both the nations hope to reach a $500 million mark by introducing the shipping line. The Bangladesh-Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and Industry predicts that the trade volume between the two neighbors may reach $1 billion by 2020.

Both nations emphasised road connectivity as a key element. Myanmar proposed that Bangladesh could become a partner of an Indian initiative of connecting, Thailand and Myanmar by establishing road connectivity. Sheikh Hasina also added that the Bangladesh-Myanmar-Kunming road could be critical for improving road connectivity. Bangladesh raised the Rohingya refugee issue, which has remained unsettled for nearly three decades. The absence of any concrete promise or effort from Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingya people not only causes endless sufferings to them, but also creates irritants for bilateral ties. Predictably, both sides agreed to resolve the Rohingya problem through peaceful and amicable talks between the two countries.

The meeting with Aung Saan Suu Kyi was crucial in view of the ongoing democratisation process in Myanmarr, for Suu Kyi will have a major stake in the future leadership of the new Myanmar.

The BIMSTEC summit offered a real opportunity to combine the ‘look east’ and ‘look west’ policies of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries in a spirit of new regionalism. In all respects, Bangladesh is well placed to advance this process through bilateral and multilateral initiatives. The country is a natural partner for any initiative in the direction of deepening cooperation on trade, energy and connectivity. Ironically, bilateral irritants pose roadblocks to these much-needed multilateral initiatives at sub-regional and inter-regional levels. At the BIMSTEC level, the member nations are in advantageous positions to resolve bilateral disputes efficiently and amicably.

The establishment of the BIMSTEC Secretariat in Dhaka will contribute in bringing the East and the West together for mutual benefit in the region.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Related Articles
Delwar Hossain,
"Bangladesh: Domestic Politics and External Actors," 17 February 2014
Delwar Hossain,
"The FSI Report: Is Bangladesh a Failing State?," 17 August 2013

Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
India-Bangladesh Post Assembly Elections in West Bengal and Assam

IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015

18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh

Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics

Bangladesh: Diplomatic Manoeuvres at the UNGA

Abe’s Successful Visit to Dhaka: Two Political Challenges

Girl Summit Diplomacy and Bangladesh-UK Relations

India-Bangladesh: After Sushma Swaraj's Visit

Bangladesh: A New Thrust Towards East Asia

Bangladesh-US: Towards New Engagements?

India-Bangladesh: Enhancing Ties through a ‘Power Corridor’

Bangladesh: Domestic Politics and External Actors

Bangladesh Post Elections 2014: Redefining Domestic Politics?

The FSI Report: Is Bangladesh a Failing State?

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.