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Narendra Modi to visit Nepal for BIMSTEC summit as nations look to revive grouping

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Connectivity, cross-border terrorism and radicalisation will be discussed at the seven-member BIMSTEC summit on 30-31 August.

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Nepal to attend the fourth Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit in Kathmandu on 30-31 August.

This will be Modi’s fourth visit to Nepal since he assumed office. He will also inaugurate a 400-bed dharamsala at the Pashupatinath temple.

The Kathmandu summit hopes to breathe new life into the grouping.

Priority areas like connectivity, countering cross-border terrorism and radicalisation will be discussed at the seven-member BIMSTEC summit, says Preeti Saran, Ministry of External Affairs’ secretary east.

Also readAfter PM Oli’s return from Beijing, Nepal thinks China is the new India

Multiple MOUs and a joint declaration are expected to be signed in areas of coastal shipping, security, trade and environment even as efforts to sign a free trade agreement among member states get underway.

Preceding the summit, the 19th Senior Officials meeting on 28 August and the 16th Foreign Ministers meeting on 29 August will also be held.

What is BIMSTEC?

Founded in 1997, BIMSTEC is a regional grouping of countries — India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand — which depend on the Bay of Bengal for mutual resource harnessing and deriving economic benefits from it.

A sector driven regional organisation, BIMSTEC started with a focus on areas of fishing, trade, technology, transport and tourism and later expanded to include areas like agriculture, health, poverty alleviation, culture, people-to-people contact and climate change.

Why did it fall apart?

After its second summit in New Delhi in 2008, multiple roadblocks hampered the progress of the grouping.

Long after inception, BIMSTEC failed to gain popularity outside diplomatic circles primarily due to differences in national interests. Its progress was further affected because of its uneven grouping, consisting of world’s least developed countries and developing countries like India and Thailand.

Its administrative functioning was also found wanting. BIMSTEC’s first general secretary, Sumith Nakandala, was appointed in the seventeenth year of its formation (2014). Nakandala’s successor M. Shahidul Islam took over in August 2017.

The BIMSTEC headquarters in Dhaka employs a staff of 10 people, and receives an annual funding of $200,000 — India provides 32% of this. In comparison, another regional grouping Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) employs a 300 member strong staff with an annual budget of more than $20 million.

To add to this, the chair of BIMSTEC, which shifts on an annual rota, hasn’t moved from Nepal in the last two years.

The upcoming Kathmandu summit was originally supposed to be conducted in 2016.

India’s role

Experts on foreign affairs and diplomacy are of the view that countries in South East Asia are now looking towards India for support because of its ‘Look East’ policy.

Also read: Former UN chief Kofi Annan, who had both a testy and cordial relationship with India, dies

At a Brookings India conference in New Delhi Friday, Chutintorn Sam Gongsakdi, Thailand’s ambassador to India, said, “China has been a terrible big brother. Now that it has become a bigger economy, China throws its weight around. India is the key to our economic growth now. Some countries are more equal than others.”

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