Last week, the world witnessed the first edition of the ‘Dhaka Global Dialogue 2019’ which clearly indicates the growing importance of Bangladesh and its role in the new world order. The two and half-day long dialogue (November 11-13), inaugurated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, helped emerging Bangladesh share its stories of ‘development miracle’ with over 150 international dignitaries from around the world apart from taking lessons how to address future challenges together.
The global experts could freely and frankly discuss and debate on the key issues - growth and development in the Indo-Pacific, commerce, security, privacy and data; enterprise, citizen, business and consumer engagement; clothing industry; climate security and migration; health and nutrition; political economy of hard infrastructure and influences; convergence of initiatives and paradiplomacy in regional connectivity; unlocking blue economy potentials and sustainable tourism; borderless payments and innovation; transnational threats, cyber security and countering violent extremism; renewable energy; women leadership and women entrepreneurship. And of course, they discussed on how Bangladesh’s ‘development miracle’ can be replicated across the emerging world.
The current century, as Prime Minister Hasina says, is being considered the “Century of Asia” in terms of socio-economic development and prosperity and peace and harmony must be maintained for the prosperity of the region.
As an essential voice on Indo-Pacific affairs with a leading influence on the future growth of the region, Bangladesh is keen to exploit this new moment. It is in this context that Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) and one of Asia’s most influential think tanks - Observer Research Foundation (ORF) jointly hosted the ‘Dhaka Global Dialogue’.
Bangladesh has experienced amongst the fastest growth rates in the Indo-Pacific – its economy has grown by over a 180 percent in the last decade. Central to this success has been investments in sustainable development. And Bangladesh is poised to achieve its goal of emerging as a “knowledge economy” by 2041 but acknowledges the new realities that are determining growth and development around the world.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has urged all to join hands for a sustainable world of “peace and stability”, saying the “venom of hatred” and ignorance results in violence and wars.
“Without peace and stability, no country or region can prosper, achieve their goals. Of late, varieties of media, including social media, are promoting this venom of hatred,” he said.
In order to attain peace and stability it is important that everyone demonstrates respect for each other, and tolerance irrespective of ethnicity, colour or religion. To inculcate such a mindset, Dr Momen urged everyone -- parents, teachers, opinion-shapers, think tanks, community leaders and governments to join hands and work together.
A Natural Region
Bharatiya Janata Party National General Secretary Ram Madhav thinks Indo-Pacific is “not a political or any special strategic arrangement” but the natural and most happening region today.
“When we talk about Indo-Pacific, we talk about the natural region. It’s about appreciating the reality,” he said while sharing his thoughts in a session titled ‘Dhaka Consensus: Growth and Development in the Indo-Pacific.”
India’s whole outlook about the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific is that they are not creating any special region or regional arrangement here, Ram Madhav says, adding that Indo-Pacific is a natural region.
Explaining why they are talking about Indo-Pacific in Dhaka, Washington and across the world, he said they are talking about it because this region, in the 21 century, has emerged as the most happening region.
He laid emphasis on joint efforts to deal with the opportunities and challenges in the region as it is all about ‘stakeholdership.’ The key thing of the discussion is how to ensure the rules-based order respecting sovereignty of all.
IPS, BRI Complementary
Bangladesh believes USA’s Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) and Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are not conflicting but complementary to each other.
“Our position is loud and clear that we believe these are complementary to each other, not conflicting,” said State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam adding that it is too early to jump into a conclusion as the Indo-Pacific is still evolving.
Most countries in the region have no clear idea what Indo-Pacific largely stands for or what is the definition of it. But free movement of the people, services and goods are the key elements for the region to prosper.
“We need to harness our potential and increase our cooperation,” Shahriar said adding that negative elements like irregular migration, illicit trade and piracy were there but there are success stories in other parts of the world.
He said the Indo-Pacific is still evolving but one thing is evident that it is Asian century with global economic powers’ focus on it.
That is why, Shahriar said, the countries of this region need to remain in bonding and cooperation as much as possible. “Potential is there. We must not lose our focus. We shouldn’t get confused by different ideas by different countries,” he said.
Shahriar said they need to invest in institutions and come closer if they want to propel the growth further in the region.
Referring to Bangladesh’s foreign policy approach – ‘friendship to all, malice to none’, the State Minister said they want to maintain almost equal terms with the other countries. “We’re one of the first countries in the region to say ‘yes’ to BRI but at the same time we’re mindful of the challenges that come.”
As long as they are mindful of right steps taking in the right moment, future will be brighter for countries like Bangladesh.
ORF President Samir Saran thinks the Indo-Pacific should not be about America trying to contain China or China trying to contain someone else; rather it should be centrally about the people who live in Indo-Pacific region. “It’s time to move beyond security and politics and we’ve to focus on what really matters us,” he said.
Connectivity: A Game Changer
Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das says India believes in an “inclusive” Indo-Pacific and described its connectivity with Bangladesh as “game-changer” ensuring a “win-win” situation for the two countries.
“So, for India connectivity with Bangladesh is a game-changer and we feel that for the both of our countries it’s a win-win (situation),” she said while talking in an interactive session on ‘Connecting the Indo-Pacific: Infrastructure and Influence’ on the second day of the dialogue.
The High Commissioner talked about the railway and roads widening projects which are happening under 8 billion Lines of Credit (LoCs), inland water-based connections and access to two Bangladesh ports – Chattogram and Mongla.
“I think it (access to ports and other connectivity) can be a game-changer for both of our countries….it can be a game-changer for the northeast as well,” High Commissioner Riva said mentioning that almost 80 percent of their US$ 8 billion LoCs is spent on the connectivity projects.
The High Commissioner highlighted the joint initiatives of reestablishing all the pre-1965 rail connections between Bangladesh and India and progress made so far to that end.
Riva Ganguly also laid importance on people-to-people connectivity with liberal visa process saying digital connectivity is an exciting area for connectivity in the future.
She said Bangladesh is the most important neighbour of India with which they have such a “growing interaction” and connectivity plays a very important role in this interaction.
“The importance of connectivity can be judged by the excitement that is there in Indian in Northeastern States,” said the High Commissioner.
For India, High Commissioner Riva Ganguly said, the important thing of the Indo-Pacific is that they are looking at a “free, open, inclusive” order which is “safe, secure and stable.”
She said they are looking at freedom of navigation, respect and sovereignty of all in the region. “It’s not a strategy; it’s not a club and not a grouping.”
Riva Ganguly said India believes in an inclusive Indo-Pacific which is not exclusive in any way.
She said this inclusive idea shows the interest of the region those who are in the region, assurance of safe, secure architecture based on cooperation, international order, law, respect and adherence of the rule of law.
Dhaka’s Growing Importance
High Commissioner Riva Ganguly said the three words - Dhaka Global Dialogue - by itself indicative of how important this event is.
“We’re having a global dialogue in Dhaka it again shows the importance of Dhaka,” she said adding that it’s one of the most happening places in the world.
Talking about Bangladesh’s growth, the High Commissioner said this is a story which gets repeated – the growth of Bangladesh in which India sees a lot of opportunities. “Across all sectors, Bangladesh has done so amazingly well.”
Talking about Indian perspective of Indo-Pacific, the Indian High Commissioner said India is a growing economy and one of the fastest-growing economies, and they naturally depend a lot on their sea lanes - most of the trade takes place through sea lanes, both merchandise and services trade.
She mentioned that 38 major countries are part of this broad concept of Indo-Pacific with 45 percent of world services area, 65 percent of world population, 62 percent of world GDP and 46 percent of world merchandize trade that go across this region. “It’s an extremely important area both globally as well as for us.”
In terms of economic importance as well as geographical importance Indo-Pacific is an important concept and area which is going to be increasingly more and more important.