One “should not expect much” from the regional group of south and south east Asian countries, Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). BIMSTEC may still continue to operate as the countries “always need to talk”, but after 22 years of its inception, there is not much left in this regional group of seven counties to look forward to, said foremost south east and east Asia expert, Bertil Lintner.
“I am sceptical. People sit in meetings (but) do not draw any grand plan to drive the organisation forward,” said Mr Linter, on the sidelines of a two-day Observer Research Foundation (ORF) conference on BIMSTEC. Mr Lintner, who has authored over half a dozen books on Myanmar, China, North Korea and “Methamphetamine explosion in the Golden Triangle”, said that the argument that “BIMSTEC took trade negotiations forward” has little merit.
“Trade has its own dynamics. Of course, they (BIMSTEC members) can relax customs regime or facilitate ports but trade has its own momentum and importantly official trade is also informal, which does not reflect anywhere,” said Mr Lintner, while adding that he was equally sceptical about dialogue on security within the BIMSTEC.
“I don’t think any country will accept any kind of regional superstructure; they have memories of fighting against the colonial rule and thus they would not like to surrender their sovereignty to a superstructure. However, I do not mean that it [BIMSTEC] is nothing; people always need to talk but one should not expect much from it,” he said.
Thus, the BIMSTEC cannot play a role to address the Rohingya, crisis which is affecting three of its member countries, Myanmar, India and Bangladesh. Mr Lintner also does not feel that the BIMSTEC as a regional grouping may make any difference to influence China in the region.
“This is something BIMSTEC members do not talk about openly but there was a suspicion. However, I don’t think as a group they can do that [though] people from various countries under BIMSTEC umbrella may talk about the issue. But that talk is informal, behind the closed doors. It is not structured, formal,” Mr Lintner noted.