IPS: Bangladesh to take no sides, focus on economy

US president Joe Biden, India prime minister Narendra Modi and Japan prime minister Fumio Kishida at the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) launch in Tokyo, Japan, on 23 May, 2022.Reuters

The foreign ministry has finalised a position paper on Bangladesh’s stance over the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS), emphasising the precondition of security for economic prosperity. It also clarified the issue of not leaning towards any side in the geopolitical competition between China and the United States centering the region. 

The draft position paper – namely Indo-Pacific Outlook – prioritised the geographical importance of the region and took into account the issues of other nations and alliances, according to foreign ministry officials. It noted that Bangladesh would work to safeguard peace and stability in the region and remain ready to cooperate in protecting maritime security. 

Sources said the outlook might be released next month, after final approval of prime minister Sheikh Hasina. 

Responsible officials said Bangladesh, as a part of the Bay of Bengal, has no scope to bypass the discussion over the IPS. The draft outlook has been prepared by mid-February, to clarify the country’s stance as to how it sees the IPS and what it wants to achieve in the context of the growing geopolitical contest between the United States and China in the region. Here, the IPS has been considered from the economic point of view and the associated defence and military issues have been ignored.  

Foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen recently told the media that the government will finalise its position on IPS by March.

Bangladesh should adopt an integrated stance considering the overall issues, including relations with various alliances, not only IPS.
Former foreign secretary Shahidul Haque

Basic elements

The draft outlook, in its first part, extended support for the vision of a free, open, peaceful, secure and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. It noted that Bangladesh would work to safeguard peace and stability in the region and stand ready to cooperate in maintaining maritime security. Here, Bangladesh placed importance on inclusive advancement and adopted a cautious stance so that it does not become an alliance of some certain countries. 

The second part incorporated guidelines to materialize the vision and prioritized four key issues – Bangabandhu’s foreign policy ‘friendship to all, malice to none,’ Article-25 of the constitution, trust in UN charter and  UN convention on law of sea, and strengthening regional partnership. 

The last part contains  15 issues, including connectivity, enhancing trade and investment, enhancing regional partnership and cooperation, ensuring maritime security, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, combating transnational organised crime, achieving a culture of peace, technology exchange and innovation, protecting marine resources, food security and disaster mitigation, health security, and cyber security. 

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The US announced the Indo-Pacific Strategy in 2017, which is considered as a move to counter China’s growth in the region. The country has been insisting Bangladesh to join the forum since 2018. 

The European Union (EU), UK, France, Germany and Canada have announced their respective strategies over the region while others, including Japan, South Korea, Australia, and ASEAN have made their stances clear.

France, Germany and the EU put special emphasis on economic cooperation in accordance with international law. France said categorically that the balance of power is going downhill due to China’s tightening grip over the region and its competition with the US.   

French president Emmanuel Macron discussed the IPS in a meeting with prime minister Sheikh Hasina during her visit to Paris in 2021. Their joint declaration reflected the shared view of Bangladesh and France on IPS. Both nations prioritised establishing a free, peaceful, secure and inclusive Indo-Pacific region and agreed to enhance cooperation on maritime security and blue economy. 

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Officials said Bangladesh followed the footprint of ASEAN on IPS. The alliance of southeast Asian nations focused on economic advancement, staying away from the rivalry between the US and China. 

Former foreign secretary Shahidul Haque said Bangladesh should adopt an integrated stance considering the overall issues, including relations with various alliances, not only IPS. If a temporary position is fixed, it will be tough for the country to maintain balance in relationships (with the outside world).  

He further said Bangladesh should be involved in all alliances and initiatives if it sets its mind for prioritising the economy. It should fix its stance as per the fundamental ideals, towards the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and IPS.