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A freer neighborhood

  • Published at 08:00 pm November 18th, 2019
South Asia Map
Bangladesh can play a more vital role. BIGSTOCK

Regional cooperation will be important going forward

In geo-political terminology, a new term is gaining currency: The Indo-Pacific. Taking a cue from the prevailing Asia-Pacific community, which merges the Pacific coasts of Asia, Australasia, and the Americas -- the Indo-Pacific envisions a region including the coastal states of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. 

The exact definition and extent of the Indo-Pacific remains unclear. Bangladesh will assume the chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) in 2021 during the golden jubilee year of the country’s independence. Countries in the IORA are located along the Indian Ocean coastlines of eastern and southern Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Australasia, and among the region’s island states. 

In recent years, the United States has adopted the Indo-Pacific term in its foreign and security policies. In 2018, the name of the US Pacific Command was changed into the Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM).

The Indo-Pacific Command is the largest geographic command of the American military, with an area stretching from the peninsular Indian sub-continent in the west, Japan in the north, Hawaii in the east, and Oceania in the south. 

The Bay of Bengal is an integral part of the Indo-Pacific region.

The Dhaka Global Dialogue ended on a note of building connectivity and the geo-political community around the Bay of Bengal and the wider Indo-Pacific. We must cooperate, adapt, and innovate for the challenges ahead. 

A fourth industrial revolution is now visible.

The rapid advance of technology has resulted in new forms of industrialization and economic activities from mobile applications to artificial intelligence. 

Questions of civil liberties and regulations are extending into the digital sphere. Financial services, health care, and education are increasingly conducted through digital media.

Renewable energy is replacing grid networks that generate electricity from fossil fuels. 

Climate change poses significant challenges for countries around the Bay of Bengal. Despite being a minuscule contributor to greenhouse gas emissions at a mere 0.35%, Bangladesh will face the brunt of rising sea levels and melting glaciers. 

Climate change-induced migration will have to be addressed. How will Bangladeshi cities cope with an influx of climate refugees?

Coastal resilience will be an important factor in combating climate change. If Bangladesh were to lose large swathes of its territory to the sea, should it consider mega projects to protect the coast? Will Bangladesh build on the technical knowhow of nations such as the Netherlands to innovate coastal protection systems? How will such mega projects be funded? To what extent can the private sector combat climate change through instruments such as green bonds? 

International law still has a gap when it comes to regulating the use of trans-boundary rivers. It is time for the international community to enact a convention on trans-boundary rivers and codify customary international law.  

The blue economy in the Bay of Bengal can develop with coastal shipping lanes and industries such as natural gas extraction, renewable energy, and deep sea fishing. Can we envision a regional coastal shipping agreement and regional partnerships for tidal and wind energy? 

Maritime security and the principles of the law of the sea are vital for the blue economy. Freedom of navigation is essential for coastal shipping and international trade. 

In comparison to the South China Sea, where maritime disputes have caused greater militarization, countries in the Bay of Bengal have settled disputes through judicial and arbitration mechanisms. It is important to build on the settlement of disputes to harness peace and security.  

The Bay of Bengal faces several non-traditional security challenges, including piracy, terrorist networks, and human trafficking. In the past, piracy was the singular crime of universal jurisdiction. Courts can begin to enforce universal jurisdiction on human traffickers, militants, and pirates found in the bay. There must be zero-tolerance for terrorism. Maritime law enforcement should be strengthened. 

The Rohingya crisis continues to be a grave threat to peace, stability; and security in the Bay of Bengal. The atrocities faced by the Rohingya in Myanmar are a blight on the regional community that was taking shape. Countries on the Bay of Bengal should have zero-tolerance for genocide and ethnic cleansing. 

Bangladesh should increase its defense cooperation with democratic powers outside the region to strengthen the rules-based order in the Bay of Bengal and the Indo-Pacific. It can consider a Framework Participation Agreement with the European Union.

Cooperation with the US can be institutionalized with the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) and the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). The Commonwealth can be a valuable forum for Indo-Pacific discourse. 

Umran Chowdhury works in the legal field.

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