Foreign Affairs

BIMSTEC Summit in January 2021: PM Modi, Sheikh Hasina to participate

Amidst ongoing border standoff and escalating tensions between India and China, it is confirmed that the 5th BIMSTEC summit will be held in January 2021.

Highly placed government sources in New Delhi have confirmed that all heads of the governments of member states including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina will participate in the summit meeting.

Sri Lanka ,the current chair of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) has proposed to host the fifth Summit of the regional grouping in the first half of January next year. Member states will discuss  the proposal and finalise the date and other agendas like holding the ministerial level meeting in Colombo ahead of Summit, sources added.

The summit was initially proposed for later this month but due to Covid-19 pandemic, it was postponed. After the summit in Sri Lanka ,the chairmanship of the regional bloc will be handed over to Thailand for the period of 2021-22. The Secretary-level meeting also approved the nomination of a new Secretary-General from Bhutan. The current Secretary General of BIMSTEC is ambassador Mohammad Shahidul Islam of Bangladesh who will be replaced by Tenzin Lekphell from Bhutan after the summit.

Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Srilanka and Thailand are the members of BIMSTEC that is often touted as a parallel of SAARC . In fact, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla while speaking on Foreign policy on Friday did indicate that India is now seriously promoting BIMSTEC as SAARC grouping functioning is blocked by one member country. He was blaming Pakistan for blocking all initiatives for good cause for economic development of the region.

He was also mentioning how the Corona pandemic has made matters difficult for diplomacy as diplomats are not meeting physically among themselves which creates a lot of confusion. He said,”for this reason only I had to travel to Dhaka for dispeling all misconception about our relationship. And I found PM Sheikh Hasina was so happy to receive me. “

He also said that in Dhaka he had met at least 40-50 people in a short span of time which was necessary for networking with the people. Answering a question on the influence of China in Bangladesh, Mr Shringla categorically said that “this bilateral relationship should not be viewed through the rubric of the third country. Bangladesh is our nearest and close neighbour which comes under our neighborhood first policy”

He said, Bangladesh is now a rapidly growing country in terms of economy. India has invested $ 10 billion as Line of credit and loan for developing infrastructure and community based small projects. It is India’s highest assistance to any country in the world.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.)

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