'Free and Open Indo-Pacific promotes democracy, good governance, human rights'

A Free and Open Indo-Pacific provides countries in the region the opportunity to foster democratic values, economic growth and durable security partnerships. Promoting this concept, Japan aims to develop the Free and Open Indo-Pacific, also referred to as FOIP, as a rules-based order for peace and prosperity in the region. It was the Japanese Prime Minister Abe back in 2016 who announced his vision of FOIP. It is an effective response to the shifting power dynamics in the region and beyond.

These observations were made at the seminar held yesterday, Tuesday, on ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific: Implications for South Asia’. Organised jointly by the Embassy of Japan in Bangladesh and Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS), the seminar was held at the Multi-Purpose Hall of the Japanese Embassy in Baridhara of the capital.

Introducing the topic of discussion in his welcome address, the BIPSS president Major General ANM Muniruzzaman (Retd) said that the Free and Open Indo-Pacific was about building a new geostrategic construct. He said that FOIP is a, “rules-based international order that promotes peace, stability and economic prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” adding that “it is a response to the evolving strategic landscape characterised by shifting power dynamics, economic interdependence and a growing number of security challenges.”

Pointing to the political implications of FOIP, Maj. Gen. Muniruzzaman (Retd) said that it encourages South Asian countries to practice democratic values, transparency and the rule of law. On the economic front, he went on to point out, FOIP provides South Asia with a framework for economic development that prioritises transparency and sustainability. And this concept also seeks to enhance security by promoting cooperation, maritime safety and adherence to international law.

In his opening remarks, the minister and deputy chief of mission at the Japanese embassy, Machida Tatsuya, highlighted Japan-Bangladesh cooperation in light of the FOIP. He said that FOIP was a rules based order for peace and prosperity in the region and that Bangladesh recognised the rules-based maritime order. He said that in April Japan had established a new cooperation framework, Official Security Assistance (OSA), and Bangladesh had also been selected for this new scheme.

Given the emerging new dynamics, Japan has no choice but to become a robust player in the region
Jimbo Ken, professor of policy management at Keio University & director, International House of Japan

Keynote speaker at the seminar, Professor Jimbo Ken, professor of policy management at Keio University and director, International House of Japan, began with elaborating on the rise of the Indo-Pacific as a strategic concept. He said that it was remarkable to see so many countries adopting the Indo-Pacific strategy as a guiding concept.

Deliberating on the evolution of regional concepts, he highlighted the groups like APEC in the 1980s, ASEAN+3 in the 1990s, EAS, RCEP in the 2000s and the Indo-Pacific in the 2010s, among others. About FOIP, he quoted Prime Minister Abe’s speech at TICAD VI in Kenya, “Stability and prosperity through ‘the union of two free and open oceans and two continents’.” The two oceans were the Pacific and the India and the continents were Eurasia and Eastern Africa.

He explained why the Indo-Pacific mattered to Japan, pointing to the geopolitical and geo-economic opportunities offered by the economic growth in South and Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia and the Middle East as well as North and East Africa. This came with the challenge of reemerging geopolitics and geo-economic expansions. “Given the emerging new dynamics, Japan has no choice but to become a robust player in the region,” he said.

Professor Jimbo Ken made it a point to explain that Japan doesn’t have an Indo-Pacific strategy. Rather, it has four pillars and 51 items of cooperation to pick and choose from, which he referred to as ‘Bazaar diplomacy’.  The four pillars of FOIP were: i. Principles for peace and rules for prosperity; ii. Addressing challenges in an Indo-Pacific way; iii. Multi-layered connectivity; and iv. Extending efforts for security and sage use of the ‘sea’ to the ‘air’.

Discussing the keynote presentation, Lailufar Yasmin, professor and chairperson of the international relations department of Dhaka University, said that FOIP was a recognition of the rising geostrategic importance of the countries of the region. Japan is paying attention to global concerns, including issues such as cyber space, climate change and such issues that loomed large. She emphasised, “We need to work together in interdependence. We cannot live like islands.”

She said that Japan’s FOIP was inclusive, promoting cooperation and initiatives to work together. “FOIP is not just a rule-based order, but a rights-based order too,” she added.

Also discussing Prof. Jimbo Ken’s keynote, senior research fellow at BIPSS, Shafqat Munir, said that the FOIP concept focused on the need for enhanced connectivity and choice.

A this juncture, he pointed out, various alliances were resurfacing and it was encouraging that FOIP focused on promoting peace and prosperity.

Concluding the seminar, Maj Gen Muniruzzaman (Retd) said that, “Ultimately a Free and Open Indo-Pacific represents a vision for a region where nations can coexist peacefully, prosper economically and ensure the security of their interests.”

The seminar ended with a lively question and answer session participated by the attending academics, retired civil and military bureaucrats, diplomats, journalists, students and others.