India approaches BIMSTEC leaders to be Republic Day guests: Report
India is planning to invite the leaders of BIMSTEC to New Delhi for the 2022 Republic Day celebrations. BIMSTEC, or the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, is a seven-nation grouping that includes India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, and Bhutan. India is reportedly in touch with the leaders of these countries for confirmation of their availability.
Why does this story matter?
India's invitation for the Republic Day parade's chief guest carries significant symbolic importance. The guests are chosen based on strategic and diplomatic concerns, business interests, and international geopolitics. The invitation signifies that India values its ties to the BIMSTEC countries, some of which have seen a leadership change in recent years. Founded in 1997, the grouping had largely been ignored until 2016.
Who all are likely to attend?
India is expecting that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa or President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Nepalese PM Sher Bahadur Deuba, and Bhutanese PM Lotay Tshering will attend the Republic Day celebrations. Other chief guests would be Thailand's PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Chairperson of Myanmar's State Administration Council, General Min Aung Hlaing.
India awaits invitees' confirmation
As per protocol, a formal invitation letter is sent only after the guest's availability has been confirmed. Proposals for the same had been sent through "appropriate channels," sources told The Indian Express. The formal guest list would be announced once confirmations are received, they said. However, there are possibilities of last-minute cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they added.
BIMSTEC leaders earlier attended Modi's swearing-in
The leaders of BIMSTEC countries had earlier attended PM Narendra Modi's swearing-in ceremony in 2019. However, since then, the leadership in many of these countries has changed. Following the military coup in Myanmar, this will provide India with the first direct engagement with the country's military leader General Hlaing. Sri Lanka and Nepal, too, had changes in leadership in 2019.
Why is BIMSTEC important for India?
BIMSTEC had largely been ignored until 2016 when the Uri terror attack by Pakistan-based terror groups occurred. After the attack, India revived the grouping as an alternative to the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which includes Pakistan. The grouping now assumes more importance amid China's increasing foothold in most BIMSTEC countries—barring India and Bhutan—through its Belt and Road initiative.
BIMSTEC nations have a combined GDP of $2.7T
The Bay of Bengal is the world's largest bay and has vast untapped natural resources. Over 22% of the world's population lives in the countries around it. The combined GDP of the seven BIMSTEC countries is around $2.7 trillion. Furthermore, a fourth of the world's traded goods cross the bay every year. BIMSTEC countries recorded an average annual economic growth of 3.4-7.5% during 2012-16.
China's growing activity in Bay of Bengal
The Bay of Bengal has been a target for China, which wants unhindered access to the Indian Ocean. Proactive engagement with BIMSTEC countries is hence important as China increases submarine movements and ship visits in the Indian Ocean.
Who all have attended India's Republic Day in recent past?
India had no chief guest for the 2021 Republic Day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson canceled due to COVID-19. In 2020 and 2019, India's chief guests were Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro and South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa, respectively. Ten leaders from ASEAN countries attended the event in 2018. In 2015, then-US President Barack Obama was India's chief guest.