Ambassador Tariq A. Karim, Director, Centre for Bay of Bengal Studies
Professor Tanweer Hasan, Vice Chancellor, Independent University of Bangladesh
H.E. Ito Naoki, Ambassador of Japan to Bangladesh
H.E. Vikram Doraiswami, High Commissioner of India to Bangladesh
H.E. Ambassador Tenzin Lekphell, Secretary General of BIMSTEC, Dhaka
Esteemed Guests, Colleagues
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning to all.
It is indeed a great honour for me to join today’s august gathering for the Regional Conference on ‘Connectivity in the Indo-Pacific (Ocean) Reconnecting peoples, facilitating human development for prosperity of all from the Bay of Bengal’. I must say the topic of today’s Conference is particularly timely as we begin to look forward to the post-pandemic era with new hopes and aspirations. Considering the significance of the oceanic resources in the backdrop of achieving the goals of Vision 2041, particularly becoming a developed nation, I highly appreciate arranging of today’s conference.
At the very outset, I pay deep homage to the greatest Bangalee of all times, Father of the Nation, Architect of Independent Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the occasion of his birth centenary and 50 years of our glorious Independence; who with his foresight rightly recognized the enormous economic importance of the boundless oceanic resources for the development of Bangladesh. During the very early stage of war-ravaged Bangladesh, the Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act 1974 was enacted which was the first Act of such kind in the South Asia and laid the foundation for our rights over the resources of Bay of Bengal. At the same time he also formulated a unique foreign policy "Friendship to all, malice towards none" which is the bedrock of our democratic values and aspiration for peace, progress and development. Following her father’s legacy, Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina proudly rekindled the dream of Bangabandhu among our entire nation and carried forward the flame along the great highway of development. Under her able leadership, Bangladesh has amicably resolved the delimitation of the maritime boundary and attained undisputed sovereign rights over a huge maritime area of 118, 813 sq. km in the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh is now eying at sustainable maximum utilisation of its maritime resources towards realising ‘Vision 2041’ to become an industrial, digitally prosperous country by 2041.
Oceans and seas generally supports all life by generating oxygen, absorbing carbon dioxide, recycling nutrients and regulating global climate and temperature, food and livelihoods to substantial portion of the global population. Over 90% of planets living and non-living resources are found within a few hundred kilometres of the coasts and nearly 2/3 of world population lives near the seacoast. The ocean provides the least expensive form of transportation and the coasts serve as major recreational site. From the time immemorial, the oceans and seas have been serving as international ways for ships and fishing grounds for fishermen and have long influenced human imagination, cultures and destiny. Mangroves, seagrass and salt marshes remove Carbon-Dioxide from the atmosphere 10 times more than a tropical forest and store 3 to 5 times more than carbon thus decreasing the impacts of climate change and they are reducing impacts of storm surge, erosion and flooding.
The Indian Ocean is rich in untapped natural resources, with some of the world’s largest reserves of gas and other seabed minerals, as well as, it is increasingly believed, about the presence of oil. Linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the Bay of Bengal occupies a central position in relation to global economic ﬂows in a way that few other regions do. As a strategic funnel to the Malacca Straits and Lombok Strait, the region has been an important location in the strategic calculations of the great powers of the world and has grown in strategic importance for China and Japan, and India as well. This is primarily due to the fact that half of the world’s container traffic passes and whose ports handle approximately thirty percent of world trade thus becoming the “economic highway of the world”. Its global significance is further reiterated as one of the world’s largest fishing grounds, providing approximately fifteen percent of the world’s total fish catch (approximately 9 million tons per annum). However, many countries in the region lack sufficient information and infrastructures about sea fish resources, their exploitation and sustenance.
Despite its status as a key maritime role in global terms and all its economic promise, its potential is hamstrung by a lack of close internal economic integration among the countries that call the region home. The prospects for conflict and or cooperation in this region are affected by multidimensional factors. A variety of transnational threats like trafficking of narcotics, drugs, weapons and people; the illegal exploitation of natural resources; border disputes, refugee flows, rebel insurgencies and terrorist groups or natural disasters that disrupt regional stability compound the challenge of making the Indian Ocean integrated.
The maritime order in the Indian Ocean is calm but fragile, primarily because the region lacks overarching security architecture and faces a diverse range of traditional and non-traditional security threats. What is needed is the application of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The world’s centre of political and economic gravity is moving eastwards to Asia and Africa. The importance of Indian Ocean or the Bay of Bengal need no reiteration especially for many countries whose existence, prosperity and security were, and always will be, intimately linked to it.
Estimates of density vary with the maximum of over 41000 ships passing over the Malacca Strait areas in a year and to the non-seafarer, such a figure, promotes a view of a dangerously unregulated, overcrowded shipping movements/environments. Collisions and grounding continue to be a very real threat to ships here and in other areas of high traffic density. Maritime piracy remains a comparatively low key but a very real problem in several parts of the world, particularly in Somalia and Southeast Asia
While merchant shipping is being increasingly recognized as essential for economic development, transportation of about 60% of world crude oil and its products along the oil tanker routes across the Bay of Bengal has rendered these waters also prone to oil pollution. Oil spills can occur anywhere at sea and have no respect for national boundaries.
The importance of monitoring the enhanced greenhouse effect and the possibility of long-term climate change, global warming and rising sea levels and their particular effects on some regional countries demands for a multidisciplinary approach for coordination among all Meteorological stations of the countries of the region and the World Meteorological Organization.
The region is also witness to 70 percent of the world’s natural disasters. Countries in Asia and the Pacific are four times more likely to be affected by a natural catastrophe than those in Africa, and 25 times more vulnerable than Europe or North America.
Devising a comprehensive strategy for one of the most diverse, complex, and contested regions in the world is by no means an easy task, and no individual or organization can comprehensively predict the best ways to grapple with Indo-Pacific Ocean strategy in the near future with pinpoint accuracy.Indo-Pacific ocean construct may be governed by peace and prosperity of the Region focusing on socio-economic development of the region to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It should also ensure establishing a meaningful relationship with the other countries in the Indo Pacific to promote accelerated technological change in order to explore and exploit the oceanic resources to empower the youth and women; promote sustainable and equitable growth and decent employment in the region.
Bangladesh may broaden and deepen our alliance cooperation and encourage the possible economic and security engagement with the littoral states under the umbrella of the Indian Ocean Rim Association of which we would be taking over as the Chair this year and at the same time strengthen Bangladesh’s Comprehensive and Strategic partnership with other countries which are also vital for both to pursue extensive bilateral interests. Bangladesh, under the leadership of the Hon’ble Prime Minister- an avid follower of pragmatism, has embarked on an ambitious plan to achieve its long-cherished goals engraved in its Vision 2021 and Vision 2041. The concept of Indo-Pacific Ocean would help Bangladesh to improve its connectivity and investment climate, promote blue economy as well as strengthening measures against terrorism and other organized crimes in the maritime sphere. Bangladesh looks at the initiatives primarily from a development point of view and thus considers them complementary – not competing or contradictory.
In the maritime field the high seas have no international boundaries as in the words of an old Norwegian saying – ‘the land divides the sea unites’. The waterways through the region are strategically important for merchant, fishing and naval vessels. As the maritime environment is basically an international one, where issues and interests, are not restricted to national boundaries alone, the advantages of multilateral cooperation in maritime matters are also expected to grow. The key challenge is continuing to shift the mindsets of officials to recognize the vital importance of the maritime domain as part of a comprehensive national security strategy. Greater certainty and more stability will only be achieved through institutionalizing the regional dialogue and cooperation among regional organisations to accommodate and harmonise great diversities of the region.
As a laboratory for cooperation, the Indian Ocean has seen many successes. This is due largely to the fact that the Indian Ocean’s strategic importance derives from its economics.Due to the economic significance of this region, countries increasingly share a common interest in keeping the sea lanes open and safe. When piracy in the western Indian Ocean threatened to disrupt the stability of these waterways more than a decade ago, we witnessed a multinational response to secure them. Counter-piracy operations emerged. In addition to counter-piracy, search and rescue is another area where countries have cooperated-for example, in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Beyond military operations, countries have pursued Indian Ocean seabed mineral exploration rights lawfully through the International Seabed Authority. The role of international law in the Indian Ocean has also been bolstered by the use of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) to resolve maritime disputes between Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar. To improve the overall maritime challenges in the Indian Oceanand to readily respond to any maritime challenges at sea, an effective Information Exchange network may be considered and agreed in the first case by all the member states to ensure freedom and safety of navigation, real time sharing of information on Search and Rescue at sea, sharing of warning information about weather/cyclone/Tsunami, fisheries infringements and other living resources, high Seas robbery, piracy and other suspicious activity including arms/drug smuggling, accidental/incidental oil spills, marine pollution from all sources.A cooperative mechanism focuses on opportunities versus threats, on optimism over fear and on confidence instead of doubt. It recognizes the challenges imposed by the uncertain conditions in time of rapid change and makes pro-active assistance and disaster response crucial elements to building relationships across nations. If there is a clear quest for more cultural, economic, politics and even strategic emancipation from the large foreign powers and among the regional organizations, this does necessarily mean that a wide and dynamic regional cooperation may be successfully developed as normally expected but real efforts as suggested here can probably change the real structure of the affectivity of any multilateral existing organizations operating in the Indian Ocean.We look forward to having a new world with more cooperation and connections for responding to the challenges.
I wish a successful and fruitful meeting.
Thank you, Chair and thanks to all.