South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Dr Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor has said the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) will become an important organization upholding its principles noting that they do not want to be dominated by any powerful nation.

"We don't want to be dominated by anybody's fight with another country, nor do we wish to be told what to do," she said after attending a programme organized by the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS).

The point the South African minister raised is that they "must not become subject to the whims" of more powerful countries and mentioned that within IORA they have set out their programmes in a very carefully planned manner. "We're not subject to the conflicts among more powerful nations."

Even those who are coming to IORA as partners, she said, they consider them as dialogue partners but they are not are not full members.

"We're the members of those who are on the Indian Ocean Rim. Others have an interest and they wish to work with us. But we always guard our essential being. This is the point that I was making," she said, adding that they do not close the door for anybody but do not want to be dominated by anybody.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen reiterated that they want to see an open, free, peaceful and inclusive Indian Ocean instead of any single country or group's domination in the region.

Bangladesh has assumed the chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) for the next two years with the theme - "Harnessing the opportunities of the Indian Ocean sustainably for inclusive development."

"This event has been very special to Bangladesh," said Foreign Minister Dr Momen while briefing the reporters on the outcome of the 21st Meeting of the Council of Ministers (COM) held in a city hotel on November 17.

Bangladesh Position on Indo-Pacific

Bangladesh, the current chair of IORA, has said it will make clear its position over the Indo-Pacific region in the days to come as the government is currently working on it.

"We'll make our position clear regarding the Indo-Pacific. We're working on it," said Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen.

He referred to the joint statement between Bangladesh and France where a paragraph was included on the Indo-Pacific.

At the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid an official visit to France earlier this month.

Bangladesh and France shared the same vision for a "free, open, peaceful, secure and inclusive" Indo-Pacific region, based on international law and with shared prosperity for all, according to the joint statement.

Taking note of the French and European strategies concerning the Indo-Pacific, both parties agreed to work towards promoting regional peace and stability and to explore further opportunities for cooperation in maritime security and the blue economy.

Highlighting their commitment to fully observing the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as well as the peaceful settlement of disputes, refraining from any threat or use of force, they stated the importance of maintaining security and freedom of navigation and overflight in all seas and oceans.

Foreign Secretary Masud Momen said some countries have taken some initiatives on the Indo-Pacific Strategy and these countries are sharing their policy separately.

He named the European Union (EU), the United States and own position in some countries in the EU.

The Foreign Secretary said it is likely to be difficult to get a position from an organization like IORA while it is relatively easy for a country.

He said the IORA member countries will be able to share their ideas and it will be discussed elaborately in the next meeting to be held in July next year.

Responding to a question, Maritime Affairs Unit (MAU) Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rear Admiral (Retd) Md Khurshed Alam Secretary (MAU) Khurshed Alam said Indo-Pacific is still an evolving issue and it is not clear yet.

While talking to the UNB recently, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the EU to Bangladesh Charles Whiteley said the growth is happening in the region and it is a vast area.

"The Indo-Pacific strategy really ties in well with our new priorities to Bangladesh. There's an opportunity to inject more energy into the Bangladesh-EU relationship," he said, highlighting the importance of connectivity, green transition, free trade and people to people link.

A joint communiqué on the "EU Strategy" for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific has been adopted recently, saying the European Union is stepping up its strategic engagement with the Indo-Pacific region as the region is increasing in strategic importance for Europe.

The EU thinks the future of the EU and the Indo-Pacific is interlinked. The EU is already the top investor, the leading development cooperation partner and one of the biggest trading partners in the Indo-Pacific region.

Ambassador Whiteley said they will be deeply engaging in renewable energy, regional energy and will help the transformation of Bangladesh energy system.

He said there is a lot of energy behind the relationship with development cooperation and trade benefits are there in place.

Bangladesh assumed the chairmanship of IORA for the next two years with the theme - "Harnessing the opportunities of the Indian Ocean sustainability for inclusive development."

"This event has been very special to Bangladesh," said the Foreign Minister while briefing the reporters on the outcome of the 21st Meeting of the Council of Ministers (COM) held in a city hotel on Wednesday evening.

The theme selected by Bangladesh was "profusely appreciated" by the member countries and the dialogue partners of IORA, he said.

Unrecognized Potential Big Markets

The South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation has said the great potential of African and Bangladeshi markets still remain unrecognized.

"The potential of Africa has not been recognized yet in Bangladesh. The potential in Bangladesh has not been recognized by the African market," she said, laying emphasis on greater collaboration as there is much to offer for mutual benefit.

The South African minister said they want to see Bangladesh companies establishing branches in South Africa and in other African countries and more goods to be imported by Bangladesh.

"Now, Bangladesh is a market of over 160 million people. That's a big market. Africa has over a billion people. That's a big market. So, we've big ambitions," she said, adding that they must encourage their countries to do more.

Foreign Minister Dr Momen attended the programme as the chief guest which was organized by Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS).

Bangladesh's Focus

Dr Momen said Bangladesh has a special focus and priority for African countries, particularly for South Africa.

Terming Africa an emerging giant in the world, he said Bangladesh is trying to grow its relationship with the African countries both in terms of trade and investment taking all precautionary measures.

Dr Momen said South Asia is also becoming a main attractive part of the world and it is a land of opportunity. "We would like to see others come and invest here."

Speaking as the chief guest, the Foreign Minister said the scope of trade and economic relations between Bangladesh and South Africa is expanding and still there is a huge possibility to strengthen these relations to foster economic growth and create employment opportunities.

He said Bangladesh has opened investment windows for different sectors, including readymade garments, pharmaceuticals, fisheries and tourism.

The South African Foreign Minister praised the remarkable socio-economic development of Bangladesh under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

She expressed satisfaction that the two countries have already signed some important agreements under discussion and mentioned that both countries have a lot of possibilities for technical exchanges.

Vaccines Equity

Responding to a question on the vaccine issue, the South African minister said the promise of public good has not been honored and the poor are on the back of the queue, in particular Africa is not getting the supply of the vaccines that is required.

"So, we're calling all the world leaders to honor the promise that vaccines must be a public good and all of us must be safe," she said.

The South African Minister said they must ensure that Africa and all the countries in the world get enough vaccines to vaccinate at least 60 percent of their population and this global inequality must be ended.

BIISS Director General Maj Gen Md Emdad-Ul-Bari said the spirit of the relations between the two great nations lies in the philosophy of two timeless voices of history, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Nelson Mandela (fondly known as Madiba) to his people.

They became the iconic figures who were the inspirations for the oppressed and exploited people to speak up for their rights, he said.

Bari said Bangladesh and South Africa have a historic relationship since both of the countries share a common history of struggle and emancipation.

The formal diplomatic relation between the two nations was established on 10 September 1994 during the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the President of South Africa.

Since then, he said, the two nations are continuing warm relations with mutual respect and cooperation.

Bari focuses on Bangladesh-South Africa bilateral relations, strengthening the bonds through solidarity, friendship and cooperation. "Bangladesh is working to promote South-South cooperation in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda."

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