'Neighbourhood First' and 'Act East - Sushma Swaraj
KATHMANDU: The grouping of seven BIMSTEC countries have reiterated their strong commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, which remains the single most significant threat to peace and stability in the region.
The member-countries agreed to take concrete measures to step up cooperation and coordination among their law enforcement, intelligence and security organisations.
They also agreed to expedite the ratification of the BIMSTEC Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Transnational Organized Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking, signed in Myanmar in 2009. The 20-year-old BIMSTEC grouping has Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal as its members.
In a joint statement, issued at the end of the 15th BIMSTEC Ministerial meeting in Kathmandu on Friday, it was also agreed to complete the internal procedures to sign the BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters at the earliest.
The joint statement expressed satisfaction that the member States have commenced negotiations on BIMSTEC Convention Against Trafficking in Persons.
The member-countries agreed to implement the recommendations of their National Security chiefs to counter terrorism, violent extremism and radicalization; and deepen cooperation to deal with traditional and non-traditional security threats in a comprehensive manner.
Apart from counter-terrorism and trans-national crime, the joint statement touched upon 15 other areas for increasing cooperation among BIMSTEC countries. These are trade and investment, climate change, energy, agriculture, public health, transport and communication, technology, poverty alleviation, fisheries, tourism and culture, blue economy and mountain economy and people-to-people contact. The two-day ministerial meeting was inaugurated by Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.
Earlier, in her address External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj noted that BIMSTEC countries represent one-fifth of world humanity and said the region is also one of the fastest growing regions in the world.
Stressing that BIMSTEC enjoys the unique strengths of connecting South and South-East Asia, she said that it links the ecologies of the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal. With shared histories, values and ways of life, it is the natural platform, to build our common future, she said.
For India, Ms. Swaraj said, BIMSTEC remained its natural choice to fulfil the key foreign policy priorities of 'Neighbourhood First' and 'Act East'.
Listing the priority areas of Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime; Transport & Communication; Tourism; and Environment & Disaster Management, where India was the lead country, Ms. Swaraj said that peace and security were essential for development to take place.
She noted that the first meeting of BIMSTEC National Security Chiefs in New Delhi in March this year had adopted a holistic approach to tackle traditional and non-traditional security challenges that threaten our region.
We worked out collective strategies to counter the scourge of terrorism, violent extremism & transnational crimes, as also to strengthen our maritime and cyber security cooperation. Specific follow-up measures in these areas are now under progress, Ms. Swaraj said.
Pointing out that the region was vulnerable to a variety of disasters due to its geo-climatic conditions, she said that to build regional capacities India would be hosting the first BIMSTEC Disaster Management Exercise in October 2017. It will help in developing quicker, coordinated and comprehensive responses to disasters.
Intra-regional tourism got a boost with the launch of the BIMSTEC Network of Tour Operators recently in New Delhi. This first-of-its kind platform has brought industry and stakeholders together. Promotion of intra-BIMSTEC tourist circuits, joint marketing strategies, and BIMSTEC specific tourism products, notably the Buddhist circuit, would allow tourists to experience our rich and shared civilizational heritage, Ms. Swaraj told the ministerial meeting.
Describing energy was the engine of economic development, she expressed satisfaction that cross-border exchange of power between India, Nepal, Bhutan & Bangladesh was on a rapid upswing. The BIMSTEC MOU on Grid Interconnection, which has been finalized, would further facilitate regional energy trade.
Arguing for deeper economic integration, she said that BIMSTEC has a combined GDP of over USD 2.85 trillion but the potential remains unfulfilled.