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Sri Lanka calls for in-person BIMSTEC summit, postpones December meet

New Delhi: Sri Lanka has called for an in-person BIMSTEC summit, the date of which is yet to be decided. This will be the 5th such summit of the grouping.

BIMSTEC or Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation has 7 members – India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. The grouping is more than 20 years old and was formed in 1997. The last summit took place in Kathmandu in 2018 with PM Modi and other member-leaders attending the meet.

Sri Lanka is the chair of the grouping and had earlier proposed holding a virtual summit on 9th December which has now been postponed. Before that it had proposed August for the summit.

This is the 2nd time Colombo had to post the summit, the reason for which has not been given. First April saw BIMSTEC foreign minister meet taking place virtually during which agenda for the leaders’ summit was taken up.

On the agenda at the summit will be the approval of the BIMSTEC Charter, BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity & BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters. Grouping is also working on the finalization of the BIMSTEC Coastal Shipping Agreement and the Motor Vehicles Agreement.

India has been keen on the grouping with SAARC unable to function well due to Pakistan’s politicisation of many proposals of New Delhi. In 2019, India had invited BIMSTEC heads of government and states for PM Modi’s oath-taking ceremony for 2nd term.

After Sri Lanka, Thailand will be the host of the grouping.

Meanwhile, BIMSTEC also faces a dilemma over Myanmar’s presence. Remember, Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) during October annual summit did not invite Gen Min Aung Hlaing who seized power in Myanmar earlier this year. The country’s coup leadership has seen global backlash over continued violence in the country.