Bangladesh’s Maritime Perspective: Balancing Interests And Security In The Indian Ocean – Analysis


The present international order is now experiencing a fast transition due to shifts in the global power axis and increased competition within the international system. The geopolitical landscape of the Indian Ocean is now being influenced by several strategic and security initiatives, including the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), the IPS (Indian Pacific Strategy), the IPEF (Indo-Pacific Economic Forum), the AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom, and United States Security Pact), and the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative).

In recent times, there has been a noticeable increase in global politicization and division around difficult matters related to power and hegemony. The recent impasse between the US and China and the ongoing war in Ukraine have served as significant challenges to the geopolitical aspirations of the Western world vs. China and Russia. Due to that, the Indian Ocean Region has emerged as a crucial element in global strategic discourse and a theater for burgeoning geopolitical rivalries among the world’s preeminent powers.

Given the continuing war between Russia and Ukraine and the consequent changes in the global political and economic environment, there has been an increased focus on littoral nations such as Bangladesh in the Indian Ocean. These states are gaining significance in addressing the rising difficulties. Furthermore, it is worth noting that the government of Bangladesh has lately implemented an “Indo-Pacific Outlook”. Furthermore, the constitution of Bangladesh incorporates the fundamental idea of upholding global peace.

It is important to acknowledge that Bangladesh has proclaimed its Indo-Pacific Outlook, intending to emphasize its geopolitical position in the region as well as its commitment to pursuing a nonalignment foreign policy. The latest declaration was issued to enhance the nation’s current alliances with the United States and Western countries, as well as India, and foster involvement within this particular geographical region. Bangladesh has expressed its intention to expedite its economic growth trajectory.

Bangladesh has adopted a cautious stance in the current rivalry between the United States and its allied countries with China. It has also refrained from aligning itself with either party. The strategic significance of Bangladesh in the Indian Ocean has been inferred from a multitude of factors. The nation has emphasized its stance on the Indo-Pacific area. The interconnections among India, China, the United States, and Bangladesh have progressed to a more elevated degree. Bangladesh has prioritized economic diplomacy in managing its relationship with China since its main purpose is complete engagement rather than military involvement.

Bangladesh’s post-independence development has been noteworthy and has placed a strong emphasis on fostering peaceful relations with its neighbors in the South Asian region. Bangladesh has placed significant emphasis on being a prosperous country within the region while also demonstrating a strong commitment to upholding international norms. Additionally, Bangladesh has the necessary economies of scale, a sizable consumer market, and technical expertise that favorably position it to assume a leadership role in this field under the guidelines of sustainable development.

To promote economic growth and development, Bangladesh places significant emphasis on fostering bilateral ties with states and engaging in regional cooperation with rising economies. Bangladesh has prioritized considerable interaction with the states in this region to create collaboration. The establishment of these partnerships has created opportunities for collaboration in several domains, such as education, carbon management and funding, addressing technological dominance, and promoting the growth of the blue economy.

The government of Bangladesh has committed to the development of a sustainable blue economy. Due to its imports valued at over 52 million dollars, Bangladesh is increasingly dependent on maritime trade for its economic growth. However, Bangladesh encountered challenges such as piracy, illegal fishing, and human trafficking in the Bay of Bengal. Due to the aforementioned constraints, the country has a potential vulnerability in terms of its marine resources, which might result in economic losses. The deterioration of the oceanic environment poses a substantial danger to the nation, in addition to the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels.

Bangladesh, in its capacity as the present chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), has placed significant emphasis on addressing the escalating issues of smuggling, arms trafficking, and human trafficking within the Indian Ocean Region. The Rohingya refugee crisis has exacerbated pre-existing issues. Within these camps, several criminal organizations have been involved in the illicit trafficking of individuals. In addition to the Rohingya population, individuals from Bangladesh have been subjected to trafficking operations, resulting in their transportation to Malaysia, Thailand, and North Africa. Subsequently, they are further transported to Greece and Italy in Europe through the maritime route via the Mediterranean Sea.

The government of Bangladesh is prioritizing the coordination of regional platforms like BIMSTEC and SAARC, as well as engaging with all countries that share a border with the Indian Ocean, to tackle these challenges. Bangladesh recognizes the significance of regional collaboration during times of global crises and in addressing regional issues. So, the nation foresees the need for cooperation among many stakeholders to effectively address the challenges and enhance marine security.

Given the constantly evolving geopolitical landscape in South Asia, the Bay of Bengal, and the Indian Ocean, Bangladesh must rethink its foreign policy options. The careful management of Bangladesh’s interests needs special significance in light of the divergent strategies and methodologies pursued by China, India, and the United States. In recent years, there has been increasing attention paid to the potential formation of a new strategic alliance including Japan, India, and Bangladesh. However, Bangladesh must also take into account certain concerns about this region to safeguard marine security.

In conclusion, it can be seen that Bangladesh has shown its commitment to upholding the principles of international order, freedom of trade and industry, prosperity, and the sovereign equality of all states. Bangladesh has successfully persuaded the neighboring governments to maintain a strategic focus on the Indo-Pacific given the economic prowess it has displayed within its region.

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma is a Research Associate at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD). She is a research analyst in security studies. She obtained her Master's and Bachelor's in International Relations from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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