‘Bangladesh’s perspective on the evolving global-regional geo-politics and challenges of diplomacy’
Bangladesh positions itself in the contemporary world as a harbinger of peace, prosperity and partnership. Under the visionary leadership of Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the nation is cruising through an unprecedented journey of high socio-economic growth, aimed at emerging as a developed nation by 2041. For this, apart from the undertaking and ongoing implementations of robust national sectoral policies, persuasion of our forward looking, value-based as well as pragmatic foreign policy is of utmost importance. Bangladesh's foreign policy follows the dictum of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, as "Friendship to all, malice to none". Accordingly, our diplomacy is aimed at maintaining friendship to all nations and not to get into and geo-political rivalry. We have constitutional obligation to abide by the principles of the UN Charter on non-interference, territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations.
Diplomacy is often termed as the first line of defence. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its Missions abroad are relentlessly pursuing our foreign policy goals of fostering peace, prosperity and cooperation with international community. However, the present geo-political scenario in the globe has created several major challenges for our diplomatic endeavours. The forceful reclamation of super power status by Russia, the rise of the new super power China and the United States' policy to maintain its global hegemony at any cost; all these have created a gravely dangerous situation. The global pandemic since 2020 has also aggravated the distrust and distance among nations and among people, and the Ukraine War has unveiled an unparalleled state of volatility.
The war in Ukraine has created extraordinary geo-political tension since the Second World War. Apart from the conflict itself that is causing immense sufferings, the global economic downturn resulting from it is causing severe difficulties. Unfortunately, there is no sign of any cessation of the war. This war has created a global crisis of energy, food and finance; causing a sharp hike of commodity prices all over the globe, and is creating serious obstacles in our post-pandemic economic recovery.
The war has also caused another major strategic inconvenience for us. At the global level, Bangladesh continues its much-hailed role as a strong proponent of peace and stability, including through the leading role in UN Peacekeeping operations by steering a consensus resolution in the United Nations on the "Culture of Peace". Bangladesh always advocates for the resolution of any international or internal armed conflict through dialogue, discussion and negotiations. But at multilateral level, we are witnessing unprecedented polarization since the beginning of Ukraine conflict. Many resolutions are being adopted in the UN with languages with unilateral condemnation of Russia, by using the "Tyranny of Majority". Russia has also been expelled from some UN and international bodies, notably the UN Human Rights Council. Many developing countries like Bangladesh that pursue a non-aligned foreign policy are being pressed to take a side; very often through undue political pressure.
Another major global big-power rivalry, especially for the last two decades at least, is the one between the United States and China. In fact, not only the US but also its European and other allies appear really threatened by the mammoth economic rise of China; and they collectively are trying to contain China with the questionable narrative that China dominance in the global affairs would pose serious challenge to the "rule based international order"! The territorial rivalries in the South China Sea and China's "One China Policy" concerning Taiwan have emerged as the flashpoint of global and regional rivalry with the country by not only the collective West but also regional rivals like Japan and India. For Bangladesh, having close relations with India, China, Japan, the United States and the countries in Europe, maintaining balance and neutrality has been becoming difficult day by day.
At the regional level, while we are facing some traditional geo-political challenges; the global political, economic and strategic polarizations have also caused new sets of difficulties. In South Asia, nations are traditionally facing several geopolitical challenges such as territorial disputes, cross-border terrorism, ethnic and religious divisions, climate change and natural disasters, proxy conflicts and disputes on water resources, etc, marking the region by a complex web of regional power dynamics. The apex one among these is the long-standing stand-off between India and Pakistan over the territorial issue of Kashmir. Indeed, tensions between these two nuclear-armed neighbours are not only impacting regional security, but also hindering any meaningful pursuit of regional cooperation under the auspices of the SAARC.
Additionally, the region is withstanding at least two other major geo-political threats. Firstly, the old rivalry between two Asian superpowers China and India is looming on our head for decades, as close neighbour of both. While the possibility of the break out of any large-scale conflict appears distant, Bangladesh has to remain worried for two particular reasons. First factor is the fact that the flashpoints of the Indo-Chinese border are in close proximity of us, and the second being the nuclear capability of both countries.
The other geo-political threat has much more direct bearing on us, and that is the Rohingya crisis and the related scenario in the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. This is like a time bomb; and may cause havoc to regional peace and stability. From Bangladesh's point of view, the repatriation of the forcibly displaced Rohingya population is the only viable solution of this crisis, as the present stalemate is truly untenable for us due to socio-economic, security and political reasons. While we are trying hard to commence repatriation, the complex alignments at the international and regional levels and the situation inside the Myanmar is making things more complex.
Now, apart from these, the recent global geo-political scenario is contributing to the regional theatre. The most important among this, for our region, is probably China's ever-increasing contention with the collective West and especially with the United Sates. There exists strong perception among many people that the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) of the US, along with all its paraphernalia like the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and security pacts like the QUAD, the AUCUS etc. are aimed at containing China's economic and strategic influences. For example, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework of the United States clearly aims at countering the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China.
Another area where global geo-political rivalries are affecting us is the effect of western sanctions on Russia. Bangladesh had to act decisively, in recent past, about shipments of equipment for our under-construction nuclear plant in Rooppur; and now payment of loan instalment to Russia has become a challenge. Our import of food grains and fertilizers from Russia and Ukraine and the export of RMG products to Russia are at stake. Also, some important defence related purchases remain pending, hindering further uplift of our defence capabilities. A nation's security apparatus needs to be upgraded in conjunction with its economic progress, in order to preserve strategic independence.
Bangladesh firmly believes that addressing these geopolitical challenges requires sustained dialogue, diplomatic efforts, and regional cooperation. Building trust, fostering conflict resolution mechanisms, promoting economic integration, and enhancing people-to-people exchanges can contribute to a more stable and prosperous South Asia. To that end, Bangladesh is undertaking diplomatic efforts in various forms. The recently concluded Indian Ocean Conference in Dhaka is indeed a good example of this. We have also recently published our own Indo-Pacific Outlook, the objective of which is to further clarify Bangladesh's peace-centric and development-oriented aspirations for the Indo-Pacific region. We have indeed clarified that Bangladesh is working for inclusive socio-economic growth for all. This also well commensurate with our national aspirations related to the sustainable exploitation of the Blue Economy.
Another menace that is, like many other parts of the world, remains as a major threat for the peace and stability in our region is indeed terrorism and violent extremism; posing significant security concerns, hindering regional cooperation, and impacting the stability and development. Bangladesh has a zero-tolerance policy against terrorism and violent extremism. We work together with neighbours on this closely; and we have a successful and effective anti-terrorism campaign at national level. Bad news is, sadly, the institutions and Special Forces that achieved such great success are now under sanctions.
Despite these difficulties Bangladesh is facing due to global and regional geo-political and geo-economic volatility, Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Government remains steadfast in its pursuit to take forward the socio-economic progress of the nation. We believe that developmental progress of a country can effectively and meaningfully ensures its safety and security and can reduce strategic vulnerability.
Bangladesh has proven historically that its people's resilience against external negative factors is very strong. As a recent example, despite many horrific predictions from many corners of the globe, Bangladesh has successfully managed the grave pandemic situation not only in terms of keeping the infection rate and death toll low, but also maintaining the highest rate of economic progress in South Asia.
Today, we are the 37th largest economy in the world, with GDP per capita growing at rates over 5% since 2015 peaking at U$ 2469 at present. We are on track in graduating from the LDC status by 2026. The country is dominating the global RMG market in the second position, earning more than 34 billion USD till March in FY 2022-23. In fact, from 2005-06 to 2021-22, we have recorded more than four times increase in our export earnings. Also, the foreign remittance earned amounts to 21.285 billion USD, while more than 98 thousand new overseas employments have been created.
Indeed, the Government's special importance on the pursuit of economic diplomacy is one of the reasons of this robust performance. In order to achieving Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's dream of Sonar Bangla by 2041, Hon'ble Prime Minister has outlined few roadmaps; and to help achieving those roadmaps, we have introduced two packages. One is Economic Diplomacy package and the other is Public Diplomacy package, and they reinforce each other. Bangladesh's ceaseless pursuit for economic and public diplomacy is giving desired results. The economic Diplomacy package has five components and these are: (1) More foreign investment, (2) More trade and export diversity, (3) Gainful employment of human resources both at home and abroad, (4) Transfer of technology, and (5) Quality services to Bangladeshi Diaspora and to others. Our Public Diplomacy package is designed to reinforce our Economic Diplomacy by reaching out to foreign leaders and audience. Bangladesh has two great resources. One is its young but huge manpower, and second, plenty of waters, rivers and rivulets. If we can fully utilise these resources, Bangladesh is sure to achieve its dream of Sonar Bangla. In order to exploit them, we need to have more investment and trade to create employment opportunity, and we need technology transfer to optimally use our resources. Keeping in mind the challenges that we will face soon due to LDC graduation, we are taking measures like efforts to secure post-graduation preferential access such as GSP-plus, to strengthen backward linkage industries, to conclude preferential and free trade deals as well as Double Taxation and Investment Protection Agreements, to diversify our export basket by prioritising sectors such ceramic, ship breaking, agriculture, pharmaceutical industry, blue economy and ICT, to attract Foreign Direct Investment by establishing Special Economic Zones and High-Tech Parks, and to improve "ease of doing business". We would like to make Bangladesh a manufacturing hub of the world. Being at the doorstep of the fourth industrial revolution, we have no option but to make right choices and take adequate preparation so that our youth can fully exploit the advantage of technologies. To that end, 83 thousand schools in the country have been provided with ICT devices and about 327 thousand teachers have been trained up in the use of ICT tools. We are establishing skills training institutions in each district.
Another major diplomatic effort that we have undertaken, especially at the regional level, is to get attention of other nations on Bangladesh's emergence as a major economic hub, and thus enhancing our strategic importance through engaging opposing blocs more and more with us. This is being done with a focus on key sectors that capitalized on its strengths and resources. The RMG sector is indeed at the centre stage as a global leader, harnessing the nation's abundant labour force and competitive advantage in manufacturing. The Government is also highly emphasizing on infrastructure development through undertaking massive investments in transport networks, facilitating efficient trade and connectivity within the country and with the rest of the world.
Bangladesh's strategic geographic location at the crossroads of South Asia and Southeast Asia creates the potential to emerge as the gateway for regional connectivity and trade. We are actively participating in all regional forums including the SAARC, the BIMSTEC, the BBIN with the view to fostering economic cooperation and expanding market access. We are also patronizing digital platforms, e-commerce and start-up ecosystems; enabling entrepreneurs to reach customers both domestically and internationally. Bangladesh is also prioritizing human capital development.
Investments in education and skill-building programs, with the aim to empowering its workforce with the knowledge and expertise required. We are also emphasizing on inclusiveness, by introducing social safety nets, poverty alleviation programs, microfinance initiatives and access to financial services. Altogether, we continue to position ourselves as an economic powerhouse, with enhanced resilience, innovative spirit, and commitment to sustainable development.
Finally, at the global level including the multilateral arena, Bangladesh continues its proactive engagement at all levels. We firmly believe that, for emerging developing countries like Bangladesh, this is of utmost importance to adhere to the spirit of multilateralism to overcome contemporary and emerging geo-political and developmental challenges. We are not only engaged actively in the United Nations system, but also in other global and regional multilateral domains like WTO, ILO, WHO, World Bank, IMF, OIC, Commonwealth, NAM, ASEM, ARF, SAARC and BIMSTEC. We continue to engage actively in these forums with the view to promote and protect our national strategic and economic interests at the global stage. In this connection, one particular area that I would like to highlight is the South-South Cooperation. We are actively engaged in South-South cooperation and indeed have emerged as a major proponent of this in the UN, with the view to promote economic collaboration and to exchange technology and development experiences with other developing countries. In recent time, I have undertaken the initiative to create a forum of foreign and finance ministers of developing countries on South-South cooperation. We believe that if we can harness this properly and can meaningfully enhance South-South cooperation, our strategic and economic dependence on the developed world might gradually reduce. Another area in multilateral arena on which is giving high importance is the climate change, which is a global phenomenon that needs to be addressed through collective efforts and innovative solutions. Bangladesh, as one of the most vulnerable countries to the adverse impacts of Climate Change, has undertaken a vanguard role in raising and negotiating this issue in multilateral forums. We are a troika member of the Climate Vulnerable Forum; and have already set up Regional Global Adaptation Centre in Dhaka; and in order to save this planet earth we adopted Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan; a plan for vulnerability to resilience, resilience to prosperity.
An architect of independent Bangladesh and Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman very well understood the importance of strategic independence of our new-born country, and manoeuvred his foreign policy to forge a bipartisan position in matters related to international politics enabling Bangladesh to communicate, cooperate and trade with both the worlds. This position still continues under the visionary leadership of Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Our proposition is clear that we want friendship with everyone, and are into any collective initiative of nations to forge socio-economic development. We may have lofty ideals and visions. But powerful country uses many sticks and tools to achieve their goals without military intervention, like issues of human rights, good governance, democracy, sanctions, and the like. During the election year, issues of participatory, free and fair election is a great tool to achieve many of its goals and contracts. Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Government is determined to continue the upward trend of the socio-economic development of the country, and is ready to undertake any compromise or any confrontation at the global arena, for the interest of the country and the people.
At the backdrop of the existing global uncertainty marred with violence and geo-political rivalries, we would wish to give empathy, respect, tolerance and other positive human emotions a chance. Let us provide leadership to the world to create a mindset of tolerance and respect for others irrespective of religion, ethnicity and colour so that the spread of venom of hatred and intolerance and ignorance is over for a sustainable world of peace and stability. We all need to join hand with Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Government in our ceaseless endeavour to safeguard our national interests and values as well as to promote peace, prosperity and partnership among nations in the global arena, overcoming all geo-political and geo-economic challenges.
The writer is the Foreign Minister of the government of Bangladesh