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Feature Desk

The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is an international organization of seven nations of South Asia and Southeast Asia, housing 1.5 billion people and having a combined gross domestic product of $3.5 trillion (2018). The BIMSTEC member states-Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand are among the countries dependent on the Bay of Bengal. Fourteen priority sectors of cooperation have been identified and several BIMSTEC centers have been established to focus on those sectors. A BIMSTEC free trade agreement is under negotiation also referred to as the mini SAARC.

BIMSTEC was established in 1997 through Bangkok Declaration. The BIMSTEC Permanent Secretariat at Dhaka was opened in 2014. The current Secretary General of the BIMSTEC is Ambassador Mohammad Shahidul Islam from Bangladesh.

The main objective of BIMSTEC is technical and economic cooperation among members.

BIMSTEC is an entity on which little is written by journalists, whether in its immediate geography in Asia, or beyond. This is especially noticeable when comparing the media coverage of BIMSTEC to that of, for instance, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

The first key challenge for journalists who write about BIMSTEC is to explain what kind of organization it is. Many in Asia and beyond have never heard of the grouping. If BIMSTEC wants more attention from the media, it will have to undertake initiatives that are important.

BIMSTEC has the potential of becoming a collective platform where the media, as well as policymakers, can address, discuss and mitigate regional concerns. ASEAN which has 10 members (Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) is often publicized by the media as a “success story”. ASEAN is hardly a Southeast Asian equivalent of the European Union (EU). ASEAN has no common policies and there is minimal cooperation between its member states. Not all ASEAN nations have democracy.

There is lack of political cohesion among the ASEAN countries. Even though it is considered a Success story? ASEAN has met with success in promoting an image of partnership and regional cooperation due to the media. It holds highly publicized meetings, either of its own or with invited partners. Many a times these meetings may yield little tangible results but the very fact that state leaders from various countries get together is enough to attract the attention of regional and international media.

Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean are considered as the next hotspots of diplomacy. The Indo Pacific Paradigm, China’s growing interests in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and India’s Far Eastern Naval Command in Andaman & Nicobar Islands are the possible considerations.

BIMSTEC needs to get the media attention it desires and deserves. While promoting its efforts, BIMSTEC should interact more with professional journalists, including those who work for established newspapers and magazines, as well as websites with competent editors and fact-checkers. It is especially important to track and counter internet trolls and fake news.

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