Bangladesh’s strategic pivot to the Indo-Pacific

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Dhaka, Bangladesh

Due to its strategic location, Bangladesh has been under significant pressure from both the United States and China concerning its position in their competition. Its neutral, balancing policy has placed it amid this power struggle.

For example, a former Chinese diplomat cautioned Bangladesh against participating in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, while the United States has repeatedly expressed its desire for Bangladesh to support its Indo-Pacific strategy. Regional dynamics and the rivalry between China and India have added further challenges.

Given this intricate political landscape, Bangladesh’s recent release of its “Indo-Pacific Outlook” demonstrates its commitment to self-determination. This document emphasizes Bangladesh’s independence, self-determination, guiding principles, and support for the existing liberal international order. It serves as a model for other small nations on how to engage in the liberal order while remaining neutral amid great power competition.

The 15-point outlook underscores the importance of security for economic prosperity and clarifies that Bangladesh has no intention of taking sides in the ongoing geopolitical rivalry between China and the United States. Despite the controversial origins of the term “Indo-Pacific,” Bangladesh appears unfazed by Chinese objections and has not received a negative response from China.

Bangladesh expresses its commitment to a free, open, peaceful, secure, and inclusive Indo-Pacific, aligning with its Vision 2041, which aims to transform the country into a developed nation in that timeframe. The outlook also highlights principles such as respect for national sovereignty, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations, and peaceful dispute resolution, as well as adherence to UN treaties and international conventions.

Connectivity, both physical and digital, along with collaboration and dialogue among nations, are emphasized. Bangladesh also calls for the strengthening of existing mechanisms for maritime safety and security in the Indo-Pacific region.

The outlook promotes cooperation among Indo-Pacific countries, sub-regional partners, and relevant organisations, reflecting Bangladesh’s belief in the liberal order and its desire to accommodate the interests of both Western powers and emerging powers like China and India.

Bangladesh’s involvement in sub-regional and mini-lateral organisations, as well as its focus on multilateralism and sustainable development goals, suggests its intention to rely on global platforms for security while remaining neutral.

To demonstrate its intentions, Bangladesh combines the connectivity philosophy of emerging powers like China and India with liberal values such as a free and open Indo-Pacific. The effectiveness of this approach depends on diplomacy and national power. This stance aligns with Bangladesh’s longstanding principles of friendship with all, malice toward none, balanced and neutral foreign policy, and commitment to multilateralism.

Bangladesh’s Indo-Pacific Outlook appears promising and aligns with the country’s goal of balancing between major powers geo-economically. However, its success will hinge on diplomatic prudence and effective policy implementation.

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