June 6, 2023

S.A. Korobi: Bangladesh announced its Indo-Pacific stance last Monday, named “Bangladesher Indo-Pacific Ruprekha”, or Indo-Pacific outlook (IPO). Indo-Pacific strategies (IPS) have been a prominent trend for the US and its major allies such as Japan, India, Australia and now Bangladesh has also come forward with its own version of IPS. This much-anticipated outlook lays out the country’s 15 objectives for the region, guided by 4 principles that essentially strive for a “free, open, peaceful, secure, and inclusive Indo- Pacific for the shared prosperity for all.” On the surface, this might seem to be Bangladesh’s shift towards US amidst the Sino-American rivalry happening in its backyards but the details will tell, Bangladesh has actually managed to hold the ground on its foreign policy of non-alignment once again.

The Indo-Pacific region gets its name not only for its geography but more for its geostrategic significance. The region accounts for more than 63 percent of global GDP and has more than half of the world’s population. It also inhibits many of the world’s largest economies namely, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, Malaysia and Philippines. So it is not hard to understand why Indo-Pacific has grown to be a global geopolitical hotspot with major powers contesting each other over the order of the region.  In the post-covid world, this has become clearer than ever.

The Indo-Pacific strategy was introduced as US efforts to balance China’s aggressive rise in the region. Although ex-Japanese PM Shinzo Abe first coined the region’s importance in the current world order, implementing strategies to deal with growing geopolitics surrounding the region only gained pace when US President Donald Trump announced its approach of Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) in 2017. The suit was followed by its western allies European Union to India and Japan. These countries were USA’s answer to China’s growing prominence in South Asia and East Asia.

Bangladesh is the new addition to this bandwagon. Its first and foremost objective for the Indo-Pacific is to “strengthen mutual trust and respect, forge partnerships and cooperation, and promote dialogue and understanding with the aim of ensuring peace, prosperity, security and stability for all in the Indo-Pacific.” The country has followed through this pledge in its further objectives, where it has promised to contribute in peacekeeping, peace-building and counter-terror programs while also upholding international values in collaboration with the stakeholders of the Indo-Pacific region. It has also vouched for maritime freedom of access and movement for the whole region and aimed to strengthen the security of the waters.


This is also reflected in Bangladesh’s pledge to uphold the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the Indo-Pacific. Its other objectives hail from the same direction where the country wants to prosper “inclusive societies” in the region that promotes ‘culture of peace’, enhances the ‘women, peace and security’ agenda and forwards to a transparent rules-based multilateral systems that enable inclusive economic growth and development for all in the Indo-Pacific.


It is undeniable that these objectives do mirror the Indo-Pacific strategies of countries like USA, Japan and Canada, but Bangladesh has also independently tailored its approach to its needs as a developing economy. The country posits to enhance institutional and digital connectivity, promote access to technological innovation  and facilitate movement of goods, services, capital, and people systematically. It also necessitates sustainable use and management of oceans, seas, and marine resources in the Indo-Pacific- an attempt to further its blue economy.


The country has also learned from Covid-19 experience that it wants to be a part of building resilient regional and global value chains to promote undisrupted flow of commerce in the Indo-Pacific. These objectives reflect Bangladesh’s far-reaching economic vision of 2041 to become a high-income country through rapid industrialization and existing agricultural structures that can complement each other.


Bangladesh ranks 7th in the climate vulnerability index-being one of the most disaster risk-prone countries in the world, so it’s fitting that the country didn’t forget to include its climate change issues in its Indo-Pacific priorities. Bangladesh wants to engage “proactively” in addressing disaster risk reduction, biodiversity loss and marine pollution by addressing the challenges of climate change “in line with relevant international conventions and commitments” in the region. This not only shows Bangladesh’s solidarity with global climate goals but also perpetuates collaboration with major Indo-Pacific powers such as USA , Japan, India to realize its climate change agendas.


Bangladesh understands its position in the inter-regional geopolitics of South Asia and East Asia- being in control of the Bay of Bengal to acting as the gateway to Southeast Asia through Myanmar borders. It has played its cards accordingly.


Bangladesh had previously joined Chinese global infrastructure development strategy known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) through the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM) and announcing its own IPO, championed by USA, Bangladesh has foresight in its multilateral diplomacy. The nation has come up with an Indo-Pacific outlook that is unique in the sense that it can be followed through in developing countries in the region as it’s focused on enhancing infrastructure capability, is flexible and comprehensive.


The country used the term Indo-Pacific to describe the region as opposed to Asia-Pacific”, favored by Beijing. But it has also shied away from putting any military goals- which has been a significant part of USA, France, UK and Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategies, where Canada directly mentions China to be problematic in the region. This move to avoid military allegiance is also shown in its reluctance to join QUAD-possibly on China’s insistence. The message of  “inclusive societies” also clear the country’s position on having all the regional stakeholders on board, including China.


The timing of the IPO announcement is also immaculate as the prime minister is currently on her tri-nation visit to Japan, UK and USA where she wishes to draw Japanese investment in the country’s economic zones. Bangladesh’s outlook is clearly of a player rather than a pawn in major power rivalry.


Since its independence, Bangladesh has maintained non-alignment policy, usually a smart decision for small states. In the last decade when USA and China have increasingly put efforts to gain influence in South Asia by building economic partnerships or strategic collaborations, Bangladesh has impressively balanced its relationship with both the major powers, even on occasions using this leverage to deal with its regional ally India. Bangladesh must continue this carefully knitted balance for the realization of its smart Bangladesh goals as the Indo pacific region keeps shaping itself akin to the emerging multipolar world. The country is bound to find a place in this new world order.

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