Reviving BIMSTEC and the Bay of Bengal Community Part I
Content from the Brookings Institution India Center is now archived. After seven years of an impactful partnership, as of September 11, 2020, Brookings India is now the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, an independent public policy institution based in India.
On August 30 and 31, Nepal will host the fourth BIMSTEC Summit in Kathmandu with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other heads of government expected to attend the summit. Founded in 1997, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, but has often struggled to develop regional cooperation and greater connectivity between South and Southeast Asia. What can we expect from the BIMSTEC summit in Kathmandu? Will BIMSTEC replace the South Asian Cooperation for Regional Cooperation? What challenges and opportunities lie ahead for the connectivity and integration agenda around the Bay of Bengal?
To discuss some of these questions, Brookings India hosted an event with a special address by Chutintorn Gongsakdi, Ambassador of Thailand to India. This was followed by a panel featuring recent research publications about BIMSTEC, including a study by Constantino Xavier, Fellow, Foreign Policy at Brookings India; an edited book by Prabir De, professor at RIS; a FICCI core group paper chaired by Distinguished Fellow at Gateway House, Rajiv Bhatia, and a paper by Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. The discussion was moderated by Sreeradha Datta of the Vivekananda International Foundation.
The event was open to the public and press was be on-the-record.
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President López Obrador's extension of the term of Supreme Court chief Arturo Zaldívar is part of his strong effort to recentralize power in the Mexican presidency and hollow out the independence and power of other Mexican institutions. His other moves to bend the justice system to his will include a reform that lowered the salary of judges but did not improve the quality of prosecutors and his unwillingness to allow an independent selection of the attorney general, with López Obrador himself retaining the power of appointment. His latest move with the two-year extension of Zaldívar’s term is especially worrisome. Zaldívar is also the president of the powerful Federal Judiciary Council. The council appoints and dismisses judges, sets career advancement rules and disciplines judges. Zaldívar will be setting the council’s and, thus, the whole judiciary’s, agenda and priorities for two years. This allows López Obrador to influence how courts will rule in cases regarding the executive branch, what cases they take up and the legality of new policies. These moves are taking place when the effectiveness of the judiciary in Mexico remains limited and deeply concerning. The attorney general’s office has proven weak, unwilling to take up key cases such as against the suspects in the brazen attack on Mexico City’s security minister, Omar García Harfuch—an event that symbolized the impunity with which Mexican criminal groups operate. Mexico’s justice system showed itself equally meek and disappointing in inadequately investigating the alleged complicity of former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos and dismissing the case, potentially the most significant case of corruption and criminal collusion charges against a high-ranking Mexican official in two decades. A decade and a half after Mexico initiated its justice system reforms, 95 percent of federal cases still go unpunished. President López Obrador has scored some points, but the already precariously weak rule of law in Mexico, and thus the Mexican people, will suffer.