While the world visibly is getting divided into two or multiple blocs due to rivalry within the great powers, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been firmly upholding the fundamental essence of the country’s constitution on foreign policy that says – friendship to all, malice to none.
On April 24, ahead of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Japan, the country’s foreign ministry made a significant announcement by formally unveiling the nation’s Indo-Pacific Outlook (IPO). The eagerly awaited IPO underscores Bangladesh’s commitment to independence, self-determination, and the existing liberal international order. It positions Bangladesh as an exemplar for other small states, demonstrating how to engage with the liberal order while maintaining a neutral stance amidst the ongoing great power competition. However, the IPO highlights Bangladesh’s independence, self-determination, guiding principles, and firm belief in the existing liberal international order. Against this backdrop, it is worth assessing the outlook, which positions Bangladesh as an example for other small states on how to participate in the liberal order, yet remain neutral in an era of great power competition.
The IPO carries particular weight as it coincides with PM Hasina’s visits to Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom, during which eight Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) were signed, signifying its importance for the country’s foreign relations. The 15-point outlook places a strong emphasis on security as a prerequisite for economic prosperity. Bangladesh clearly states its intention not to take sides in the geopolitical rivalry between China and the United States and its allies. While the term “Indo-Pacific” has been criticized by China as part of a containment strategy, Bangladesh remains unfazed, staying true to its balanced foreign policy approach.
A key aspect of Bangladesh’s IPO is its belief in a free, open, peaceful, secure, and inclusive Indo-Pacific, viewing regional stability and prosperity as essential for achieving its Vision 2041 to become a developed nation by 2041. The outlook reaffirms its commitment to principles such as national sovereignty, equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and the peaceful resolution of international disputes, aligning with relevant UN treaties and conventions.
The IPO outlines Bangladesh’s emphasis on strengthening existing mechanisms for maritime safety and security in the Indo-Pacific region. It prioritizes enhancing physical, institutional, energy, digital, and human connectivity, fostering the movement of goods, services, capital, and people across borders. The outlook encourages cooperation among Indo-Pacific countries, including collaboration with sub-regional partners and relevant organizations for mutual benefits.
Analyzing the 15-point IPO reveals that Bangladesh upholds the liberal order and accommodates the free and open Indo-Pacific approach, appealing to Western countries’ interests in maintaining the status quo. Simultaneously, by promoting connectivity and facilitating the free movement of goods and services, Bangladesh addresses the interests of emerging powers like China and India. This strategic balancing may help mitigate tensions among great powers, offering a diplomatic pathway amid the current geopolitical rivalry.
Bangladesh’s neutral and balancing outlook on the great power rivalry is a manifestation of its practice of self-determination. To assure major powers of its intentions, Bangladesh skillfully incorporates both the “connectivity” philosophy of emerging powers like China and India, and liberal values cherished by Western powers. This approach aligns with Bangladesh’s long-standing principles of friendship to all, malice towards none, balanced and neutral foreign policy, and commitment to multilateralism.
Bangladesh’s IPO may serve as a successful model for other small states facing similar challenges in the Indo-Pacific region. By embracing a positive-sum game and avoiding side-picking, the country encourages cooperation and pursues a neutral policy, relying on multilateral platforms to secure its interests. This approach provides a viable template for small states like Sri Lanka, Maldives, and others that seek to balance the interests of great powers while leveraging their geo-economic means to ensure stability and prosperity.
Bangladesh’s Indo-Pacific Outlook presents a notable strategic vision that emphasizes a balanced and neutral foreign policy while actively engaging with the liberal international order. By demonstrating the importance of self-determination, connectivity, and cooperation, Bangladesh sets an example for small states seeking to navigate the complexities of geopolitical rivalries. The success of this outlook relies on astute diplomacy and effective policy implementation, making it a compelling case study for others facing similar challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.
Bangladesh, a strategically and geopolitically important country
For the past 14+ years, while Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been putting special emphasis on socio-economic progress of the country, she also has been putting equal importance on maintaining excellent relations with neighboring India and the rest of the world. By upholding the constitutional provisions on Bangladesh’s foreign policy, she also has been maintaining distance from rivalry within the great powers because for a prospering Bangladesh, it would be counterproductive or even suicidal to join the rivalry within the great powers as the country needs cooperation from every country in the world for its ongoing socio-economic and infrastructural progresses. It is also worth mentioning that, during the past one decade, Bangladesh has emerged extremely important due to geopolitical factors, while an unstable Bangladesh can pose serious security threats to neighboring India, Myanmar and beyond.