The BIMSTEC on Wednesday adopted a much-awaited charter and a connectivity roadmap to expand its cooperative agenda with Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitching for giving adequate priority to regional security to ensure prosperity in the backdrop of the developments in Ukraine.
At a virtual summit, the leaders of the seven-nation BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) also entrusted India to helm the grouping's security pillar while approving its major reorganisation.
In his address, Modi said that today is the time to "make Bay of Bengal a bridge of connectivity, a bridge of prosperity and a bridge of security" and noted that it is impossible to ensure prosperity or development of the region without security.
The prime minister also announced a USD one million ad-hoc grant for the operational budget of the BIMSTEC secretariat and another USD 3 million assistance to revive the grouping's centre for weather and climate.
"Developments in Europe in the last few weeks have raised a question mark on the stability of the international order. In this context, it has become important to make BIMSTEC regional cooperation more active," Modi said.
"It has also become imperative to give more priority to our regional security," he said without mentioning Ukraine.
India has been making concerted efforts to make BIMSTEC a vibrant forum for regional cooperation as initiatives under SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) were not moving forward for a variety of reasons.
Besides India, the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) comprises Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan.
In his address, Modi also called for speedy progress on the proposed BIMSTEC free trade agreement and batted for adopting international norms in the field of trade facilitation to promote trade and economic integration among the member states.
The prime minister also emphasised developing a legal framework soon to set up a 'Coastal Shipping Eco-system' in the Bay of Bengal and added that the time has come for implementing an electricity grid interconnectivity. "Similarly, establishing a legal framework for increasing road connectivity is also important," he said.
The summit, hosted by Sri Lanka, finalised a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) and decided to set up a centre for technology transfer in Colombo and facilitate cooperation among diplomatic academies.
Shortly after the summit concluded, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the adoption of the BIMSTEC charter has given the grouping an "international personality" and reflected its "significant evolution".
Rudrendra Tandon, an additional secretary in the MEA, said at a media briefing that the signing of the BIMSTEC charter and finalisation of the transport connectivity roadmap were the main outcomes at the summit.
"Henceforth, the BIMSTEC cooperation activities will take place in seven pillars. Each pillar will be led by one of the member states who will be primarily responsible for furthering cooperation," he said.
Tandon said it was decided that India will lead the security pillar.
Referring to Modi's participation, he said the prime minister's approach was to propose to the leaders that there was a need to accelerate the pace of cooperation and that the grouping should not rest after signing the charter.
Tandon said Modi also spoke about the need to move forward in areas of connectivity, disaster management, marine cooperation and economic integration agenda.
He said the security agenda is a "central prerequisite" for any sort of development cooperation.
Asked about cooperation under the security pillar, Tandon said the activities will be based on the potential and capacities of the platform. "Currently, our approach on the security pillar is to try two things -- firstly establish the highest quality norms for combating terrorism and transnational crimes and other non-traditional crimes and at the same time put in place all the legal mechanisms required to enable our law enforcement agencies to collaborate as closely as possible," he said.
He said trade facilitation could play an important role in economic integration.
On the transport master plan, Tandon said it will have a "multiplier effect" on logistics and that various connectivity plans will join up if the member countries follow the framework.
Asked about Myanmar's participation at the summit as it is being ruled by the powerful military that grabbed power in a coup last year, Tandon said that country is an important member of the grouping.
"For the success of cooperation activities of this platform, we require all countries to be present ...Myanmar is an important member of the BIMSTEC," he said.
In view of the special commitment that India has to develop the BIMSTEC platform further, Modi used the occasion to make announcements on some Indian initiatives which we hope will further the BIMSTEC agenda in a more accelerated manner, Tandon said.
"In this regard, he (Modi) announced a USD one million ad-hoc grant to the BIMSTEC secretariat's operational budget...He also announced a USD 3 million grant to revive the BIMSTEC centre for weather and climate which is an important part of the disaster management and risk reduction agenda," Tandon said.
Elaborating on the BIMSTEC charter, he said the grouping now has "an international personality, it has an emblem, it has a flag, it has formally listed purpose and principles that it is going to adhere to."
"That represents a fairly significant evolution of the grouping a process which was happening since 2004 or so," he added.