Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) and Bangladesh: Prospects and Challenges
Shining Editorial || shiningbd
The Indo-Pacific Strategy, recently shortened to IPS, is technically a geographical concept that includes both the two regions of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. The term was first coined by the Indian Navy almost ten years ago; however, the strategy got momentum during the APEC meeting in 2017 when US President Donald Trump announced a new approach to Asia namely Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). The FOIP slogan had already been used by Japan to denote its own strategic approach to the Indo-Pacific when Australia used the term “Indo-Pacific” in their 2016 Defense White Paper.
This geostrategic reasoning made the term-"Indo-Pacific"- a widely accepted regional concept at least for the time being.
Indian Ocean has emerged as a vital arena of geostrategic calculations for both the USA and China. Bangladesh is an important member of the BIMSTEC region which demands a substantial understanding of the prospects and challenges of IPS. The increasing importance of this region is putting a tremendous impetus on US foreign policy. And thus the traditional US grand strategy in the Asia-Pacific emanated from the “Hub and Spokes'' system is being replaced by a new strategic priority namely “Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS)”.
The emerging economy, as well as the diplomatic rise of China, is creating a „security dilemma‟ for its neighbour as well as for the US too. Especially the constant power display of China in the South China Sea is making its neighbour more worrisome and so it is leaning them towards the US to counterbalance China through alliance building in the form of QUAD. It is notable to mention here that the USA is playing a proactive role in the name of IPS to counterfeit the Chinese dream to be a hegemonic power in the days ahead.
Both economically and strategically, the prospects of the Indo-Pacific region are increasing and drawing the attention of the world powers. The Indo-Pacific region constitutes 50% of the global GDP. It is true that Indo-Pacific Strategy provides an opportunity for Bangladesh to bridge the country with this economic hub. But the IPS is more strategic than economic aspects. Stephen Biegun, Deputy Secretary of State, has already proposed Bangladesh buy arms under IPS.
Bangladesh replied with its desire to get infrastructural investments. Notably, Bangladesh imports approximately 71% of its arms from China in the recent past and so engagement with the IPS would obviously cause discomfort to China.
To some analysts, the Indo-Pacific Strategy makes it difficult for Bangladesh to maintain the balance-of-power with the world powers. Bangladesh faces the dilemma that it cannot put less importance on its relationship with the US, at the same time, joining the IPS might put its relationship with China at stake.
However, the intention of Bangladesh showed a clear message that the country is focusing largely on increasing the living standards of its people through focusing on the human security dimensions rather than prioritizing the traditional military security perspective. IPS is, literally, a military security capability building alliance in the Bay of Bengal. The foreign minister of Bangladesh A.K. Abdul Momen said in a press briefing after his official visit in the United States, “We focus on infrastructure and economic development, not security”.
Bangladesh has been transcending towards a developing country from a Least Developed Country (LDC) status through building its economic developmental strategies. The country showed an example of „economic success‟ and all the development partners including China, Japan, India, ADB or the World Bank are very eager to take part in the development trajectory.
Article 25 (1) of the country‟s constitution further stipulates that “the State should conduct its international relations on the basis of the principles of the peaceful settlement of international disputes...strive for and economic empowerment of peoples”. Believing in multilateralism, the country is maintaining friendly relations to all fronts- India-China or USARussia.
The IPS will incline the country towards a specific front of US-India-Japan, contemptuously the BRI strategy of China. Bangladesh wants peaceful coexistence and accelerating economic development; so, the state neither implements the BRI full-fledged nor the IPS.
From the above discussion, it is clear that Bangladesh is so far following a unique strategy to find a win-win outcome from the BRI. To exploit the best possible outcome from the proposal, it is recommended that it should follow the collaborative strategy through creating a think tank to analyze the cost-benefit and comparative-competitive advantage analysis of IPS. For instance, Bangladesh may seek to choke out strategies on how IPS can be linked up with its blue economy and maritime diplomacy.