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Bangladesh Unveils its New Indo-Pacific Outlook

Bangladesh's Indo-Pacific Outlook (IPO) is a pragmatic approach to a region that holds substantial importance in global affairs. But rather than becoming ensnared in geopolitical rivalries, Bangladesh has chosen to carve a distinct path that serves its own interests. The country intends to actively participate in shaping the future of the Indo-Pacific region while safeguarding its independence.
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Bangladesh

Sylhet, Bangladesh – 15 December 2014: A beautiful view of the red and green color flag (the national flag of Bangladesh) on a yellow background under the blue sky. © HM Shahidul Islam / shutterstock.com

June 06, 2023 23:26 EDT
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On April 24, Bangladesh formally announced its first Indo-Pacific Outlook (IPO). The announcement signifies the country’s proactive involvement in the evolving dynamics of the Indo-Pacific region. The timing of the announcement came right before Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Japan, the UK, and the US.

The IPO outlines 15 objectives for the Indo-Pacific region and “envisions a free, open, peaceful, secure, and inclusive Indo-Pacific for the shared prosperity for all.”

Since independence in 1971, Bangladesh has adhered to a policy of non-alignment. While the IPO aligns with the broad objectives of the region championed by the United States and its allies, Bangladesh remains resolute in maintaining its neutral stance.

The Indo-Pacific region has its identity not solely because of its geographical boundaries but primarily due to its immense geostrategic importance. The region produces more than 62% of the global GDP and accounts for more than half of the world’s population. 

The region also serves as home to several of the world’s largest economies, including China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. It comes as no surprise that the Indo-Pacific has evolved into a significant geopolitical hotspot, with major powers vying for influence and asserting their positions on the region’s order.

The Indo-Pacific strategy emerged as a response to China’s assertive rise in the region, with the United States playing a leading role. The term “Indo-Pacific” was first coined by the late Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe. In 2017, US President Donald Trump introduced his “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)” plan. President Trump garnered support from key Western allies, including the European Union, India, and Japan, as they recognized the need to counterbalance China’s expanding presence.

Bangladesh has now joined the 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.” 

In line with its pledge, Bangladesh aims to actively contribute to peacekeeping, peace-building, and counter-terrorism programs in the region. It also emphasizes the importance of upholding international values and collaborating with other stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific to achieve shared goals.

Maritime freedom of access and movement, and sustainable management of oceans, and seas are also key priorities. Bangladesh adheres to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 

In addition, the country aims to promote inclusive societies that embrace a culture of peace, prioritizing the advancement of the “women, peace, and security” agenda. It also advocates for transparent, rules-based multilateral systems that enable inclusive economic growth and development for all stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific.

The country recently unveiled Vision 2041, an ambitious roadmap aimed at uplifting the economic status of the country and improving the living standards of its people through rapid industrialization. Currently, Bangladesh is the 7th most climate-vulnerable country, according to the climate vulnerability index. Bangladesh is keen on proactive engagement in addressing disaster risk reduction, biodiversity loss, marine pollution, and other climate change issues. 

Bangladesh has made a deliberate choice to use the term “Indo-Pacific” instead of “Asia-Pacific,” which is favored by Beijing. This reflects the country’s independent stance in regional geopolitics. However, it has avoided including explicit military goals in its strategy, in contrast to other countries like the USA, France, the UK, and Canada. 

Bangladesh’s non-alignment policy is a prudent decision for a small state. Bangladesh has effectively balanced its relationships with the US and China, both of which have been vying for greater influence in South Asia.

Maintaining this balance will be crucial for Bangladesh as it strives to achieve its goals amidst the evolving dynamics of the Indo-Pacific region and the emerging multipolar world. The country is bound to find a place in this new world order.

[Naveed Ahsan edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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