Bangladesh Indo-Pacific Outlook: A Game Changing Idea

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Bangladesh officially unveiled its 15-point Indo-Pacific Outlook envisioning a free, open, peaceful, secure, and inclusive Indo-Pacific on 24 April 2023, one day before the commencement of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s tri-nation visit to Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom. State Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, Md. Shahriar Alam shared different dimensions of Bangladesh’s Indo-Pacific Outlook. In identifying the key determinants of Indo-Pacific region that influenced Bangladesh to announce its own outlook include the region’s collective share in global GDP, preponderance in international trade, enhanced climate action and growing technological dynamism.

Bangladesh’s declaration has come against the backdrop of evolving domestic and international contexts. Globally, Indo-Pacific region has become an arena of fierce strategic competition and economic dominance over the past decade. The so-called great power competition has vitiated the region to the extent of calling it a new theatre of Cold War between the United States and China. Meanwhile, the announcements of Indo-Pacific Strategy, Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, Belt and Road Initiative, Australia-UK-US defence treaty and Indo-Pacific Economic Forum and many such initiatives have securitised the region to the detrimental interests of developing countries in the region such as Bangladesh. The ongoing Ukraine War has significantly driven the region towards more animosity and rivalries.

While geopolitical scenarios in the region are becoming more hostile and explosive, for Bangladesh the region has special significance from domestic considerations. Bangladesh is a key actor in the greater Indo-Pacific region with its strong position in the Bay of Bengal sub regional setting. With the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes with Myanmar and India a decade ago, Bangladesh has emerged as a major maritime nation in the region. The future of many littoral countries, including Bangladesh, depends to a larger extent on a free and open Indo-Pacific. Currently, Bangladesh is chairing the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). Bangladesh has already announced its blue economy plan vastly endorsed by the international community. In this context, the announcement of Bangladesh deserves enormous significance for its present and future role in the region.

The Indo-Pacific Outlook of Bangladesh is a game changing idea, considering the underlying meanings and evolving acrimonious politico-strategic atmosphere in the region. A couple of factors are crucial for assessing the Outlook. First, the Bangladesh perspective demonstrates its indivisible relations with the region. While the Bay of Bengal is the third neighbour of Bangladesh, the India Ocean is considered the fourth frontier, signifying a compelling ground for its deeper engagement in the area. Bangladesh has made it clear to the world that the country is a major stakeholder of the region. Second, the timing of the declaration is critical. There can be no better occasion to announce it as the Prime Minister was set to fly for visiting three dominant actors in international relations – Japan, the USA and the UK. Bangladesh has clarified its position on the Indo-Pacific region so that it would dispel any attempt to misperceive and misinform Bangladesh’s rightful stance on the Indo-Pacific region.

– Delwar Hossain, PhD is Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and the founder of the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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