Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific maritime security expert Dr David Brewster has said the new maritime space of Bangladesh is potentially very exciting and Australia would like to see Bangladesh able to govern it properly.
“Australia has a lot of experience in building maritime domain awareness in a system, rescue and more importantly maritime space. This is certainly an area for potential cooperation. Australia has a strong interest in seeing Bangladesh being able to govern its maritime territory properly to stop smuggling of people and drug, illegal fishing and other sorts of crime,” he said.
He said Bangladesh is pursuing a development model which is complementary to Australia and the island country can be a reliable supplier of energy and resources to Bangladesh for assisting its development.
“It would be beneficial for both Australia and Bangladesh to come together much more and work on economic side and political context as I think we both have a lot of shared interests in the Indian Ocean region,” said Dr Brewster, also a Fellow with the Royal Australian Navy Sea Power Centre and Distinguished Research Fellow with the Australia India Institute at University of Melbourne.
He thinks the good thing is that there is no baggage or friction in the relationships between Australia and Bangladesh.
While speaking about the policies formulated by different countries centering Indo-Pacific region, Brewster said the idea of Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) aims to recognise the growing economic and strategic connections between the countries in Pacific and Indian Ocean.
The expert foresees that the new economic, political and strategic order centring the Indo-Pacific region will offer fresh challenges for Bangladesh. Many things will depend on how the country responds to these challenges in the coming years.
He said no one will impose anything on Bangladesh. The country takes its decision on its own. He said Bangladesh has maintained a balance in receiving investments from China and Japan and other countries as well.
Talking about different countries’ diverse strategies centring the Indo-Pacific region, Brewster appreciated some of the features of BRI for the wellbeing of the region, but he criticised debt traps and different unfeasible projects under the initiative, citing the examples of Sri Lanka, the Maldives and some other countries.
“The story is complicated for Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Bangladesh has successfully avoided that. But you can’t be too simplistic in this regard,” he said.
China has been offering political and economic planetary to seven out of nine small South Asian states to enclose regional source of power. Speaking about what the US and its partners can offer to these countries, Brewster stressed on trade and economic aspects and told about alternative economic source.
“I would hope they would be in a position to assess whether any investment proposal makes sense. With the economic recession, China is suffering now. There will be less Chinese investments available compared to last years,” the Indo-Pacific expert said.
“The US and India have stepped back from multilateral trade arrangements, while other countries, including Australia and Japan, are still strongly committed to multilateral trade agenda,” Dr Brewster said, adding that South Asian countries can rely on these partners. The US’s aim of promoting democracy, good governance, rule of law, and strategic partnerships and alliances continues to dominate the normative agenda for the region.
When asked that whether the countries share similar interpretations of these norms and what he thinks if the South Asian states remain staunchly protective of their sovereignty and perceive outside influence as interference in their internal affairs, Brewster said the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought the issue of sovereignty to the fore.
“Smaller countries in the region should be very concerned about their sovereignty and threat from aggressive big countries. Russian invasion of Ukraine or China’s attitude towards Taiwan have increased their fear. Australia never supports any kind of aggression,” Brewster reaffirmed.
It is clearly stated in the IPS formulated by the US that it will support India’s continued rise and regional leadership in the region. While responding to a question regarding India’s preparation to lead the region when the country is yet to settle several major issues like border disputes and the trade deficit with China, he said India tries to work with as many countries as possible in different ways.
“I think probably India is ready to take the leadership role. I am sure that they can play a constructive and useful role in the region. I understand and I am aware that there are historical frictions between India and its neighbours. And I think we all need to find ways to transcend those frictions to everyone’s better,” he said.