Extended neighbourhood in Southeast Asia a priority for India: Modi

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New Delhi, Aug 29 (IANS) Ahead of his departure for Nepal to attend in the Fourth Bimstec Summit on Kathmandu on August 30-31, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said that his participation in the event symbolises the priority India accords to deepening ties with India’s extended neighbourhood in Southeast Asia.

“My participation in the Summit symbolises India’s highest priority to our neighbourhood and our strong commitment to continue deepening our relationship with the extended neighbourhood in Southeast Asia,” Modi said in a pre-departure statement here.

“During the Summit, I will have interactions with all the leaders of Bimstec ( Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) to further enrich our regional cooperation, enhance our trade ties and advance our collective efforts to build a peaceful and prosperous Bay of Bengal region,” he said.

“The Summit theme, ‘Towards a Peaceful, Prosperous and Sustainable Bay of Bengal Region’ will enable us to shape a collective response to our common aspirations and challenges.”

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Bimstec came into existence on June 6, 1997, through the Bangkok Declaration.

It comprises seven countries lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

The bloc brings together 1.5 billion people, or 21 per cent of the world’s population, and has a combined GDP of $2.5 trillion.

The main objective of Bimstec is technical and economic cooperation among South Asian and Southeast Asian countries along the rim of the Bay of Bengal.

With the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) virtually rendered ineffective as a bloc, largely due to non-cooperation on the part of Pakistan on issues like connectivity and counter-terrorism, India has been giving more importance to Bimstec in recent times.

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India is the lead country for cooperation in four priority areas: counter-terrorism and transnational crime, transport and communication, tourism and environment, and disaster management.

In his statement, Modi expressed confidence that the Kathmandu Summit will further consolidate the progress made thus far under Bimstec , and will chart the course for building a peaceful and prosperous Bay of Bengal Region.

“On the margins of the Bimstec Summit, I will have the opportunity to interact with the leaders of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand,” he said.

“I also look forward to meeting Prime Minister of Nepal K.P. Sharma Oli and reviewing the progress we have made in our bilateral ties since my last visit to Nepal in May 2018.”

Modi said that he and Oli will also inaugurate the Nepal Bharat Maitri Dharmashala at the Pashupatinath temple complex.

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At a media briefing here last week, Preeti Saran, Secretary (East) in the External Affairs Ministry said that significant progress has been made in cooperation within the regional bloc since the Bimstec Outreach Summit held on the sidelines of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) Summit in Goa in 2016 in the areas of security, counter-terrorism, transport and connectivity, tourism, environment and disaster management, and people-to-people contacts.

“Bimstec is growing economically and strategically,” she said.

“The strength of the group is in responding collectively in the face of adversity.”

Saran said that Bimstec is important for India in terms of New Delhi’s Act East Policy and Neighbourhood First Policy, with northeastern India acting as a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia.

A Bimstec free trade agreement (FTA) is under negotiation as also a customs cooperation agreement and a motor vehicles agreement.

–IANS

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