Global powers are increasingly focused on the geopolitics, economy and business centred on the Bay of Bengal. The importance of the region has increased further since the outbreak of novel coronavirus. Bangladesh needs to adapt to these emerging circumstances and take integrated measures to utilise the opportunities that lie ahead.
These observations were made on Tuesday at a webinar on the growing importance of the Bay of Bengal. The webinar, ‘Increasing political, ecological and regional importance of the Bay of Bengal for Bangladesh in the post COVID-19 world,’ was jointly organised by the Independent University of Bangladesh (IUB), Bangladesh Institute of Maritime Research and Development (BIMRAD), and IUB’s International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD).
The discussion was moderated by senior fellow of IUB’s Bay of Bengal Institute Project and former ambassador Tariq A Karim.
Speaking as chief guest, the prime minister’s advisor on international affairs, Gowher Rizvi, said that we are still unaware of the vast possibilities centering on the Bay of Bengal which are emerging in the changing circumstances. He emphasised the need to understand this so as to use the opportunity to the best advantage. He said that the geopolitical and strategic importance of the Indian and Pacific Ocean had opened doors of vast possibilities for us. We must put emphasis of knowledge and research, he said, adding that our institutions needed to be prepared accordingly
Chairman of BIMRAD, Admiral Nizamuddin Ahmed, said that the 1 billion sq km of the Bay of Bengal territory was a connecting route for transport of goods, trade and cultural exchange. This is considered as the main Indo-Pacific region. He said that China, Japan and member countries of ASEAN were visibly active in exerting their influence on the maritime route.
He pointed out that China had already started exerting its influence through the maritime Silk Route. Meanwhile, the US was advancing with is Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS). Bangladesh can play an important role in these circumstances, he said, adding the region was becoming all the more important in the post-COVID context.
Keynote speaker at the webinar, foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen, spoke at length on the plans centering on the Bay of Bengal in the US Indo-Pacific Strategy, China’s BRI and Japan’s FOIP strategy.
Bay of Bengal has become most important due to geopolitical reasons. That is why, alongside development, we are also placing importance on stability here. We want a solution to the Rohingya problem for the sake of regional stability. Japan is extending its cooperation to ensure that an environment conducive to the return of the Rohingyas is created in Rakhine.
Speaking on the priority of the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh’s context, Masud Bin Momen said importance will be attached to funds, technology, efficient management, market facilities and branding in our interests. Also, attention will be paid to enhancing our defence, agriculture, industries and water resources.
During the panel discussion, Centre for Policy Dialogue’s distinguished fellow Mustafizur Rahman said the changed circumstances have created a scope for competition, and diplomacy will play a vital role is availing the large opportunity emerging around the Bay of Bengal.
He said Bangladesh must focus on international negotiations to made economic advancement in this regard.
Head of IUB’s Global Studies and Governance department, professor Imtiaz A Hossain, said, on the changed circumstances we must put emphasis on preparing policies in an integrated manner. And the adopted strategy must be multidimensional.
Ambassador of Japan, Ito Naoki, speaking as a special guest at the webinar, said, “The Bay of Bengal has become most important due to geopolitical reasons. That is why, alongside development, we are also placing importance on stability here. We want a solution to the Rohingya problem for the sake of regional stability. Japan is extending its cooperation to ensure that an environment conducive to the return of the Rohingyas is created in Rakhine.”
Chairman of IUB’s Board of Trustees, A Matin Chowdhury, said possibilities have been created around the Bay of Bengal and we must work unitedly in that regard.
In his welcome address, professor Milan Pagon, vice chancellor (acting), IUB, said that the spread of coronavirus has proven that none of us are separate. We are all linked to one other. No country can say, the problem is yours, not mine.
Presenting the closing remarks at the webinar, senior fellow of IUB’s Bay of Bengal Institute Project and former ambassador Tariq A Karim said that there will be four more seminars on the Bay of Bengal’s ecological and environmental contribution, economic cooperation and regional importance. We hope that recommendations will emerge from these discussions for concerted steps to determine our position.