Where Does Bangladesh Stand in the US Indo-Pacific Strategy?

In geographical reality, the Indo-Pacific area is quickly assuming primacy as the hub of global politics and commerce. Because of the region’s geopolitical significance, enormous maritime economic potential, vast market, and strategic location, major world powers have developed strategies for the Indo-Pacific region. Foreign investors are also interested in the region due to its expanding importance.

Countries in the Indo-Pacific area, including Bangladesh, can benefit from the competitive advances of the great powers. Geographically speaking, Bangladesh lies at the meeting point of South Asia and Southeast Asia. Bangladesh thus occupies a central position in the Indo-Pacific area. Bangladesh’s relevance is greatly boosted by the prominence of this region.

An essential bay in the Indo-Pacific region is the Bay of Bengal. The international court has resolved the conflict between Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar over the territorial waters of this sea. Following the decisions of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), Bangladesh has been granted complete economic and absolute sovereignty over the 1,18,813 km of the Bay of Bengal.

Thailand is on its eastern edge, and India is on its western edge. Other countries bordering the sea include Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. Several other countries in South and Southeast Asia also have indirect dependencies. In international trade, one-fourth of the commodities are transported via the Bay of Bengal. The Bay of Bengal is a safe corridor for fuel oil and LNG transported through the Persian Gulf from the Middle East to energy-scarce countries. It is almost unheard of to use force against each other, to infringe on another’s territorial waters, or to violate international law among the littoral countries.

Active regional alliances like SAARC, ASEAN, and BIMSTEC have developed in the Asia-Pacific region through the Bay of Bengal. The Bay of Bengal, the largest bay in the world, plays an important role in the economic and political stability of South Asia. This also holds true for the Southeast Asian nations that border the Bay of Bengal. Natural and mineral resources are abundant in this harbor that connects the two areas. Bangladesh has established itself as a key player in the Indo-Pacific region thanks to its strategic location, control over the Bay of Bengal, and expanding economy.

Indo-Pacific Strategy

The United States has recently presented a proposal to make the entire Indo-Pacific a “free and open” region. The whole Indian Ocean, from the US coast to the Pacific Ocean, is included in the US’s declared Indo-Pacific Strategy. The Indo-Pacific region is defined as extending from the eastern Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean in Australia’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper. According to the strategy of the European Union, it extends from the west coast of Africa to the South Pacific Ocean. This makes one thing abundantly clear: geographically speaking, Bangladesh’s location on the Indo-Pacific map is shared by all nations and regions.

Making the Indo-Pacific area free and open, connected, prosperous, safe, and resilient is the primary goal of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS). The political vision of the announced Indo-Pacific Strategy has four values-based components. Respect for international law, free and open trade, the sovereignty and independence of all nations, and the peaceful resolution of disputes are among them.

Superpower competition and the potential of Bangladesh

The economic, diplomatic, military, and scientific sway of China in South and Southeast Asia is growing. India, on the other hand, is taking up existing market space as South Asia’s emerging economy. The United States has essentially indicated its interest in and aspirations for the region through the release of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. As a result, there is a conflict of interest in the region between major economies like the US, China, and India.

All players have their own policies for including small countries in their plans. In the face of such rivalry from powerful economies, Bangladesh can benefit from balanced ties in terms of trade and investment. Bangladesh itself has a rising economy. The country is expanding its economy through imports and exports and is projected to become a trillion-dollar economy by 2040.

Bangladesh is a country that is vulnerable to climate change. As a result, it will enrich Bangladesh’s progress if it can join the Indo-Pacific Strategy’s proposals for collaboration on issues like climate change, free trade, and sustainable development. With nearly 1.5 billion people, South Asia is a significant market. Southeast Asian nations now have a total GDP of almost $3 trillion. This region controls 10% of the world’s total trade.

Asia-Pacific encompasses South Asia, Southeast Asia, and its surrounding areas. Bangladesh has the potential to serve as a hub for communication between the two vast regions it connects. By leveraging Bangladesh’s low-cost labor, robust infrastructure, and advantageous location, investors in the country can easily export products to India and the ASEAN region. Also, Bangladesh can benefit economically by allowing the use of maritime economies, mineral resource extraction, and port transit.

The government of Bangladesh is likewise intrigued by IPS, particularly its economic framework. In a letter written to then US President Donald Trump in 2018, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stated, “Bangladesh agrees on a free, open, peaceful, and secure Indo-Pacific vision that will bring prosperity for all.” Bangladesh can position itself as an emerging financial power in the regional market by joining IPEF through a positive democratic and economic relationship.

[Image by Eric Gaba, via Wikimedia Commons]

Dr. Sabera Chowdhury is a Senior Researcher at South Asian Studies, University of Toronto, Canada. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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