The Sixth Indian Ocean Conference 2023: Bangladesh’s Emphasis on the Pursuits of Peace, Prosperity and Partnership in the Indian Ocean Region

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As the chair of Indian Ocean Rim Association, Bangladesh hosted 6th Indian Ocean Conference 2023 on 12-13 May. Mauritius president, minister and state minister-level delegations from 25 countries, including Indian external affairs minister attended the conference. Besides, around 150 foreign guests including representatives from D8, SAARC and BIMSTEC participated in the conference. The theme of the conference was Peace, Prosperity and Partnership for a Resilient Future. It is argued that given the growing geopolitical rivalries in the Indian Ocean region, there is no alternative but to promote peace, prosperity and partnership where Bangladesh can play an active role.

Why Peace, Prosperity and Partnership?

Indian Ocean region accounts for 64 % of the global population, and 60 % of the global GDP, 40 % of the world’s oil supply and 64% of the world’s oil trade. Thus, promoting peace, prosperity and partnership matter for tens of thousands of people in this region. In the words of Deeksha Goel, “rise of a peaceful Indian Ocean Region on the principles of a rules-based order will chart a new agenda for prosperity and greater partnership in the region and beyond”. In fact, many Indian Ocean countries, i.e., Australia, Bangladesh, India are doing great economically. Indian Ocean countries need to broaden cooperation in the areas of trade and investment, food, energy and finance connectivity, cultural diplomacy, and educational exchanges for shared prosperity and development. Noteworthy, Indian Ocean countries can play significant role in the rise of a “multi-polar Asia”.

Goel notes that “forging new partnerships, strengthening existing institutions and exchange of best practices amongst the stakeholders of the IOR will go a long way in bridging the green finance deficit”. In fact, twenty-first century maritime challenges, including traditional and non-traditional security challenges cannot be addressed by a single state. In addition, in the pursuit of maritime resources sustainably, cooperation and partnership among Indian Ocean countries become necessary. In promoting collaboration and partnership, Bangladesh has an important role to play.

Role of Bangladesh

David Brewster from Australian National University in his talk at the first day 2023 Indian Ocean Conference argued that “Bangladesh can and should play a stabilizing role in the region”. In fact, from Bangabandhu’s time, Bangladesh always promotes an open and rules-based maritime order. One can mention that Bangabandhu tried to promote the concept of Indian Ocean as a “Zone of Peace”. In 1974 Bangabandhu enacted the Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act 1974. In addition, to resolve maritime boundary delimitation issue with Myanmar and India, Bangladesh started negotiations with these countries back in 1974. Thus, Bangladesh’s focus on the role of diplomacy, dialogue in resolving maritime disputes dates back to the 1970s which can be example for others.

It is evident that Bangladesh is actively trying to promote maritime cooperation and regionalism in different bilateral and multilateral forums. For instance, in September 2012, at the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina emphasized on peaceful settlement of maritime disputes mentioning Bangladesh’s peaceful maritime dispute resolution with Myanmar. In November 2012, at the twelfth meeting of the Council of Ministers of IOR-ARC, held in India, Bangladesh Foreign Secretary (late) M. Mijarul Quayes emphasized on promoting regional cooperation in the areas of marine fisheries, and building partnerships to face maritime piracy, and to prevent illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. Quayes mentioned that Bangladesh is working to ensure the safety and security of fishermen in the seas and cooperating with the neighboring states in this regard. In April 2014, Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali advocated for the inclusion of oceans and seas in the post-2015 development agenda at Global Oceans Action Summit for Food Security and Blue Growth at the Hague.

On September 1, 2014 Bangladesh organized two-day international conference on blue economy which was attended by experts and government officials of more than 20 countries and international organizations. In the conference, Bangladesh proposed for building a Bay of Bengal partnership for blue economy. Bangladesh emphasized on regional and global cooperation and partnerships in the pursuit of blue economy potential.

In addition, at the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly held in New York, 2015, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina raised the issue of maritime boundary delimitation with Myanmar and India respectively which provided a message to the global community on the necessity of peaceful settlement of disputes in the maritime domain.

At the sixth Indian Ocean conference, Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina underscores six priority areas for Indian Ocean region. In the words of Hasina, “The Indian Ocean holds significant importance not only for Bangladesh, but also for all the countries in the region due to its geographical position”. She also spoke for the necessity of pursuing ‘maritime diplomacy’ and promoting mutual trust and respect among the states of the Indian Ocean region.

Thus, one can conclude that Bangladesh is a champion of promoting maritime cooperation and partnership. And after successfully organizing this 2023 conference in association with India Foundation, Bangladesh proved once again its commitment to peace, prosperity and partnership in the Indian Ocean region.

– Dr. Md. Shariful Islam is an adjunct Research Fellow of the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA) and an Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh.

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