The Indo-Pacific has emerged as a theatre for economic and strategic competition in the 21st century as maritime trade through the region impacts the economies of all major nations in the world. The Bay of Bengal region will be perceived as being in the centre as it connects the Indian and Pacific oceans. Situated at the crossroads of the international flow of trade due to its proximity to the Straits of Malacca, the region has geostrategic importance. It is home to around 20% of the worldís population, has a combined GDP of 2.7 trillion USD, and hosts vast reserves of natural resources that could prove to be a game-changer for the regionís political economy. Increasingly, the region is also being subjected to multiple challenges on both conventional and non-conventional security fronts. As far as India is concerned, the Bay of Bengal serves as the regional gateway in her Act East and Look East policies. In March 2022, during the virtual summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Indian PM Narendra Modi emphasised the importance of the region as ‘a bridge of connectivity, a bridge of prosperity, and a bridge of security’.
India, being the most powerful country regionally and the largest democracy in the world, has a major role in ensuring security and safety in the BOB. In order to gain a deeper appreciation of the region, the emerging situation, and the way ahead, an International Conference on Security and Prosperity in the Bay of Bengal was organized by CPPR with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF), South Asia. It was held from November 29 to December 1, 2022, in Kochi, Kerala.
In six sessions, the following thematic areas were discussed:
a) Prospects and challenges of the Blue Economy in the Bay of Bengal
b) Towards enhanced energy cooperation in the Bay of Bengal
c) Fostering regional development through trade and investment
d) Harnessing cooperation for environmental sustainability in the Bay of Bengal
e) Addressing human security challenges through institutional mechanisms
f) Emerging technological advancements and innovation in the Bay of Bengal
Session 1, ‘Prospects and Challenges of the Blue Economy’, focused on identifying the importance of marine governance and highlighted the relevance of the blue economy amongst the regional stakeholders. The tussle between environmental sustainability and growth imperatives is a domain that governments in the region should address through urgent policy initiatives. Marine governance must take cognizance of the rising opportunities and challenges that the Bay waters offer while nurturing government to-government contact at national and sub-national levels.
The focus of Session 2 was ‘Towards enhanced energy cooperation in the Bay of Bengal’. The discussions highlighted how closer and diversified energy cooperation is the key to enhancing economic growth for the countries of the region. With increased exploration and extraction underway in the region, possibilities for enhanced energy cooperation amidst emerging geopolitical realities were discussed. Blessed with an abundance of natural resources in the inland and offshore areas of the Bay, the uninterrupted flow of energy at affordable prices is important for the regionís growing energy demands. The need for littoral countries to diversify energy cooperation beyond bilateral trade in electricity and oil was evident. These are currently the dominant components of energy trade in the region.
Session 3 dealt with ‘Fostering regional development through trade and investment’. The discussion revolved around the regionís economic future and the opportunities that need to be capitalised on. Infrastructure development and the employment of advanced technologies would streamline such opportunities. Efforts to integrate the Bay of Bengal as a commercial hub are underway, with a focus both on bilateral and multilateral arrangements within the region.
Session 4 was on ‘Harnessing cooperation for environmental sustainability in the Bay of Bengal’. It focused on the challenges posed by climate change and the consequent rising sea levels to the political economy and security of the Bay of Bengal. Rapid exploitation of resources, unsustainable farming and fishing practices, as well as pollution, are anthropogenic activities that challenge the stability and prosperity of the Bay of Bengal. Climate change adversely threatening the livelihoods and lives of the littoral communities in the region was highlighted.
The discussions in Session 5, ‘Addressing human security challenges through institutional mechanisms’, revolved around the security architecture in the region and taking cognizance of matters that render communities vulnerable and insecure. Political instability, internal conflicts, socio-economic crises, pandemics, and multidimensional poverty pose threats to sustainable development, peace, and stability in the region. Deepening regional cooperation is a way forward to meet such challenges by fostering government-to-government as well as multilateral-level cooperation.
Session 6 on ‘Emerging technological advancements and innovation in the Bay of Bengal’ highlighted bilateral and plurilateral cooperation for enhanced partnership in the technology and innovation sectors as the key driver for economic development in the Bay of Bengal. It also underlined the necessity of investments and government-to-government efforts to focus on building capacity, transferring technology, and fostering a technology and innovation-friendly ecosystem.
The presentations and discussions at the Conference were insightful and brought out several valuable suggestions and recommendations for the way ahead. This volume is a compilation of papers presented at the conference.
The views expressed are those of the authors.