Connectivity and Cooperation in the Bay of Bengal Region


The Bay of Bengal region has long been called as the geo-economic divider rather than a link between Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent according to geopolitical experts. This vast expanse of water from the coasts of India and Sri Lanka to Indonesia and far stretched to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has been calm but the tides are changing in the 21st century. This region has been slowly but surely occupying an important space in the foreign policy of not only the regional players but also the global players. The modernisation of Southeast Asian architecture has played a key role in the regional integration of the Bay of Bengal Region. The region has acted as a bridge of connection between the Indian and Pacific ocean. India’s growing engagements with the East Asian countries is a testimony to the region’s importance in India’s foreign policy.  The various international organisations have been also contributing to the growth and development of the region. Multilateral cooperation is an important factor in facilitating greater regional connectivity in the region. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has not been successful in realising the aspirations of this region, so Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation ( BIMSTEC), a regional initiative is an excellent opportunity to reimagine the region. The region has been overcoming the fragmentation and neglect post the second half of the 20th Century and is poised to become a regional economic hub in the 21st century, thereby realising the idea of regionalization being the new globalisation. The robust economic growth, active leadership of regional countries and the emerging dimensions of security, new technologies, new areas of convergence of interests are the key drivers for regionalisation in this region. Therefore, development and cooperation in this region is imperative for bringing about the peace, prosperity and unity in South Asia.

Importance of the Bay of Bengal Region 

Geographical Importance of the Bay of Bengal Region 

Geographically, the Bay of Bengal is surrounded on three sides by India (West and Northwest), Bangladesh (North) and Myanmar (East). The region is surrounded by several islands like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Irrawaddy Delta. Around 22% of the world’s population live in the Bay of Bengal Region with a combined GDP close to USD 2.7 trillion.

Agriculture is the lifeline for the people living along the Bay of Bengal coast. It is also India’s agricultural lifeline as it is the main source of the South East winds for regular monsoons. The region is a tropical wetland which is home to numerous delta systems and rich biodiversity of marine and coastal ecosystems. Secondly, this region plays an important role in maintaining heat balance and the region’s weather pattern. The region serves as a trade route with the east, southeast and Asia Pacific region. The northern waters of the Bay of Bengal region is the main source of communication in the Indian Ocean connecting the dynamic economies of East Asia with the traditional markets of Europe via the oil-rich gulf and rapidly growing Africa. Currently, about half the world’s container traffic passes through this region while its ports handle about 33% of the world trade.  The Bay of Bengal Region countries include core littoral states like Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand and including Adjacent states with interest (ASEAN) like Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Vietnam and SAARC states like Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal.  

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Author : Sourishree Ghosh