Bangladesh has handled competition among major powers very well, he says

Australian expert Dr David Brewster has said there are gaps in Bangladesh's maritime security capabilities that need to be built upon or enhanced with a comprehensive picture of its maritime domain in place first.

"Bangladesh does not have a clear picture of what is happening in the maritime domain," Brewster, who specialises in South Asian and Indian Ocean strategic affairs, told UNB in an interview.

He said there needs to be a system so that Bangladesh understands what is happening out there and it is necessary to create a basis to get benefitted from the blue economy.

The expert said, for example, there is illegal fishing going on but no one has ever done a proper study on its extent.

"That is an absolutely fundamental thing," he said, adding, "study first if you want to get benefit from the marine resources. You have to do the study to figure it out - the amount of resources and how much illegal fishing is taking place."

Brewster, from the National Security College in Canberra, laid emphasis on generating awareness about everything that is going on in the maritime domain - illegal fishing, drug smuggling, and human trafficking, if any.

"In my view, Australia can be very useful to Bangladesh," he said, mentioning that lack of a clear picture hinders law enforcement and the protection of maritime resources.

Brewster said Australia has useful experience in this area and can help Bangladesh develop its maritime search and rescue capabilities.

"We want to see all our neighbours having the ability to properly manage and govern their maritime spaces. More broadly, we want to see a stable and prosperous Bangladesh," said the expert.

He said Australia can also provide targeted capability-building assistance on selected transnational security issues.

Talking about growing "competition and rivalries" among major powers in the region, the Australian expert said, "I should say, Bangladesh has handled this competition very well, at least so far."

Appreciating the process and policies that Bangladesh follows in terms of taking projects and investment, he said, "In my view, Bangladesh has been very cautious."

Responding to a question, Brewster said beyond economy, Bangladesh and Australia have a lot of shared interests in the region in terms of stability, resilience and making sure that other countries in the region are stable and resilient.

He said Bangladesh has become a more active player and it has a lot to offer. "This region is not only a playground for the big players; we all have stakes in regional stability and prosperity."

Responding to a question, Brewster said Bangladesh does not want to be forced to make choices as there are multiple initiatives from major powers.

"I think it is understandable... Bangladesh has options. It is not forced into any particular (group). Bangladesh has created options quite successfully," he added.

Brewster said one cannot just sign into the Quad or BRI (Belt and Road Initiative). "That's not the case."

Of course, he said, there will be opportunities to cooperate with Quad countries on issues if this makes sense for Bangladesh to do so.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, commonly known as the "Quad", is a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States that is maintained by talks between member countries.

In relation to the competition among major powers, Brewster said, "I am seeing a lot of debate here in Bangladesh about what it will mean for the country and whether it will be adopting a strategy towards the Indo-Pacific or not."

"That's for Bangladesh to decide," he added.

The expert said there are a lot of good reasons for Australia and Bangladesh to step up their relationship as Indian Ocean partners.

He said Australia has long been a major donor for Bangladesh, including during the Rohingya crisis.

"But it is now time to build a more comprehensive and multi-faceted partnership. There are also many ways that Australia and Bangladesh can work together in the Indian Ocean to enhance regional security and combat climate change," Brewster said.

Australia has identified the northeast Indian Ocean as a key area for enhanced strategic engagement.

This should be part of a comprehensive plan to target emerging economic tigers such as Bangladesh, he said.

A strategic partnership with Bangladesh would also fit with Australia's approach to developing a web of relationships among Indo-Pacific middle powers, Brewster said.

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