Feature Article

New Delhi to discuss maritime security, BIMSTEC ‘progress’ with Mahinda Rajapaksa

[TamilNet, Friday, 07 February 2020, 21:28 GMT]
SL Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is on a five-day visit to India for high-level diplomatic meetings combined with religious veneration starting from Friday. “This visit will focus mostly on maritime security in the Indian Ocean region. Both countries will seek to also bring the ties back on focus and build on the gains that were reached during (Gotabaya’s) visit,” reported The Print, an Indian digital newspaper. Genocidal Sri Lanka currently holds the chair of the regional alliance, Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). “Sri Lanka’s participation in the BIMSTEC, which is a crucial part of Modi’s ‘Look East’ policy, has moved at a rather slow pace,” The Print report said.

India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval made an unexpected trip to Colombo in January. The purpose of the visit by Mr Doval, who is described as the most influential person in India, next to Indian PM Narendra Modi, was to remind Colombo on the significance of the “Maritime Domain Awareness” programme.

The MDA programme involves India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives with other regional states as observers.

India and the US (as well as the other two Quad partners, Japan and Australia) want to ensure Bay of Bengal states’ compliance with the US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) and the smaller states’ adherence to the so-called ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ (FOIP) concept through the regional formation.

Recently, India has come to an understanding with the US on the territorial scope of the geopolitical term ‘Indo-Pacific’ to include the western Indian Ocean Region and to strengthen the larger grouping, Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) in addition to the sub-regional BIMSTEC.

Following the strengthening of US-India military ties, both the major strategic partners have been talking of the ‘Bay of Bengal Initiative’ for military coordination of the small state actors in the Bay of Bengal region. India has not been interested in advancing a ‘security‘ programme through the SAARC grouping as it wants to exclude Pakistan.

Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand collectively constitute the BIMSTEC, which is headquartered in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Myanmar has moved much closer to China while the ruling Communist Party of Nepal is struggling to proceed with the US Challenge Cooperation (MCC) grant assistance as the party is divided over the strategic implications of the programme to the landlocked country bordering China and India.

On 16 January, The Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid openly announced that his country was backing the [US-India] “Indo-Pacific Strategy”.

Earlier, in November 2019, India brought The Maldives as the 22nd member state of the IORA, after the 2018 defeat of the pro-China Yameen regime.

‘Sri Lanka’ is a member state of the IORA while Pakistan and Myanmar are not part of that formation.

In the meantime, New Delhi has also strengthened defence cooperation with France and gained access to military bases in Mauritius and Seychelles and is strengthening its presence in the western Indian Ocean Region.

Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) between Australia, India, Japan and the United States [Image Courtesy: By Darouet - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64113559]
Twenty-two Member States and nine Dialogue Partners of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA)
Twenty-two Member States and nine Dialogue Partners of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA)
BIMSTEC countries

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External Links:
The Print: Rajapaksa to meet PM Modi tomorrow, visit to focus on security in Indian Ocean region



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