Indo-Pacific Strategies and Bangladesh

16 May 2023, 04:08 pm | Updated: 02 June 2023, 10:31 pm

Indo-Pacific Strategies and Bangladesh

The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ refers to a geopolitical region encompassing the Indian Ocean and the western and central Pacific Ocean, including the seas around Indonesia, Australia, and the eastern coast of Africa. The concept of the Indo-Pacific has gained significant traction in recent years as a strategic framework for understanding the growing economic, political, and security interconnections between the countries in these two oceanic regions.

The Indo-Pacific region is home to some of the world's most populous and economically dynamic nations, including India, China, Japan, Australia, and the ASEAN countries. The region is characterized by its vast maritime expanses, rich natural resources, and strategic chokepoints, such as the Strait of Malacca, the Suez Canal, and the Strait of Hormuz.

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on the Indo-Pacific due to various factors. China's rapid economic growth and military expansion have led to concerns among other regional powers about potential shifts in the regional balance of power. China's assertive territorial claims in the South China Sea and its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have raised questions about its regional strategic intentions.

The United States has sought to strengthen its presence in the Indo-Pacific by deepening its strategic partnerships with countries like Japan, Australia, and India and promoting regional initiatives like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) also includes Japan, India, and Australia.

The Indo-Pacific is a critical global trade corridor, with a significant portion of the world's maritime trade passing through its waters. Ensuring freedom of navigation and maritime security is a priority for many countries in the region, particularly given the increasing competition for resources and strategic influence.

The region has seen significant economic growth and development, with increasing trade, investment, and infrastructure connectivity between the countries in the Indian and Pacific Ocean regions. Regional trade agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) further highlight the growing economic interdependence in the Indo-Pacific.

As a result of these factors, the Indo-Pacific has become a focal point of international diplomacy and strategic competition. Regional powers and external players like the United States and the European Union increasingly engage in the Indo-Pacific to promote their interests, address shared challenges, and shape the future regional order.

‘Indo-Pacific’ has gained prominence recently as a strategic framework to address the growing economic, political, and security interconnections between the Indian Ocean and the western and central Pacific Ocean regions. Several countries and organizations have developed Indo-Pacific strategies, reflecting their regional priorities and interests.

The US has increasingly focused on the Indo-Pacific region, emphasizing maintaining a free, open, and inclusive order. The U.S. approach includes deepening strategic partnerships with allies and partners such as Japan, Australia, and India, promoting regional initiatives like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), and maintaining a strong military presence in the region.

China has been expanding its influence in the Indo-Pacific through economic and infrastructure initiatives, such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and increasing its military presence in the region. China's approach to the Indo-Pacific focuses on securing its strategic interests, including access to resources, maintaining its territorial claims, and promoting regional connectivity.

India's Indo-Pacific strategy emphasizes the importance of a rules-based international order, maritime security, and connectivity. India has been working to strengthen its relationships with key regional players, such as Japan, Australia, and the United States. It participates in regional initiatives like the Quad and the India-ASEAN strategic partnership.

Japan's "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" (FOIP) vision is centred on promoting a rules-based order, enhancing connectivity, and ensuring regional maritime security. Japan has been working closely with the U.S., Australia, and India on initiatives such as the Quad to strengthen regional cooperation and address shared challenges.

Australia's Indo-Pacific strategy promotes a stable, inclusive, and prosperous regional order. The Australian approach includes deepening its engagement with regional partners, including the U.S., Japan, and India, and working on regional initiatives like the Quad and the Australia-ASEAN strategic partnership.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has developed the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, which provides a framework for engaging with the region based on inclusivity, cooperation, and a rules-based order. The Outlook promotes economic integration, connectivity, and maritime cooperation, among other priorities.

These are just a few examples of the different Indo-Pacific strategies adopted by various countries and regional organizations. While specific priorities and approaches may vary, many of these strategies share common themes, such as promoting a rules-based order, enhancing regional connectivity, and ensuring maritime security. The evolving strategic landscape in the Indo-Pacific will continue to shape the development and implementation of these strategies in the coming years.

Bangladesh, as a country in the Indo-Pacific region, is strategically positioned at the intersection of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh has already declared its draft Indo-Pacific Strategy just before the visit of the Prime Minister to Japan recently. The country's location, combined with its rapidly growing economy, makes it an important player in the regional dynamics of the Indo-Pacific.

Bangladesh has been actively engaging with regional powers and participating in various regional and sub-regional initiatives to promote its interests and enhance its connectivity in the Indo-Pacific. Bangladesh has been working to improve its connectivity with other countries in the Indo-Pacific region through various infrastructure and economic cooperation projects.

Bangladesh's trade and investment ties with countries in the Indo-Pacific have grown significantly in recent years. It maintains strong trade relationships with countries like China, India, Japan, and ASEAN members. Bangladesh also seeks to diversify its export markets and attract foreign investment to sustain its economic growth. 

Given its location along the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh is vested in maintaining maritime security in the region. The country has been working to modernize its navy and coast guard and has participated in joint exercises and naval security dialogues with other regional powers.

Bangladesh actively engages with regional organizations such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). These platforms allow Bangladesh to work with other countries on various issues, including trade, climate change, disaster management, and regional stability.

Bangladesh has been developing strategic partnerships with key regional powers, such as India, China, and Japan, to enhance its economic, security, and diplomatic engagements in the Indo-Pacific. These partnerships help Bangladesh leverage the resources and influence of these major players to advance its interests in the region.

However, the Indo-Pacific region is witnessing heightened strategic competition between major powers, particularly the United States and China. Bangladesh's deepening economic and strategic ties with both these countries may put it in a delicate position where it has to carefully balance its relationships to avoid being drawn into rivalries or conflicts.

Bangladesh's participation in China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and other infrastructure projects entails taking on significant loans and investments. There is a risk of accumulating unsustainable levels of debt, which might compromise the country's economic stability and increase its dependency on external actors, particularly China.

As a country with significant maritime interests in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh faces various maritime security challenges, such as piracy, illegal fishing, and smuggling. The increasing militarization of the region and territorial disputes could also affect Bangladesh's naval security and access to resources.

The Indo-Pacific region is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and resource scarcity. Bangladesh, as one of the most climate-vulnerable countries globally, faces significant risks from these environmental challenges, which could exacerbate existing social, economic, and security issues.

Bangladesh's neighbourhood includes countries with historical rivalries and ongoing conflicts, such as the India-Pakistan and India-China disputes. Escalating tensions or instability in the region could have spillover effects on Bangladesh's security and economic interests.

Bangladesh needs to adopt a nuanced and balanced approach to its Indo-Pacific engagement to address these risks and challenges. It may involve diversifying its economic and strategic partnerships, investing in regional cooperation mechanisms, and focusing on maritime security, climate change adaptation, and sustainable development. By maintaining a balanced and proactive stance, Bangladesh can maximize the opportunities presented by its engagement in the Indo-Pacific while managing potential risks and challenges. 

In conclusion, Bangladesh's active engagement in the Indo-Pacific region reflects its strategic interests and ambitions to enhance its connectivity, promote economic growth, and ensure regional stability. As the dynamics of the Indo-Pacific continue to evolve, Bangladesh is likely to deepen its involvement in the region further and play an increasingly important role in shaping regional outcomes.

Dr Matiur Rahman: A researcher and development worker

Category : Opinion