Articles and Commentaries |
July 3, 2023

Fostering Partnerships and Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region

Written By: Sheikh Hasina

Our oceans and seas account for 90% of world trade and 60% of oil transportation. The real value of global maritime trade has remarkably tripled in the past 15 years. Oceans offer excellent opportunities in supporting sustainable development in countries the world over. Yet much of the potential still remains untapped.

The Indian Ocean Region has significant economic, political, and strategic implications in the Asia-Pacific and African regions. It shares 64% of global population and 60% of global GDP.

Despite its potential, the region faces many challenges. The countries in the Indian Ocean region, therefore, need to foster partnerships and cooperation for ensuring peace, and prosperity for all.

Our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman underscored optimum utilization of Bangladesh’s maritime resources for its development, growth and stability. A visionary leader, he enacted the “Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act, 1974”, to set the limit of Bangladesh’s ‘Maritime Zones’; to enable conduct of different activities within the limit; and also, to facilitate exploration of sea resources.

Notably, this Act came into force eight years prior to the “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982”, at a time, when the global community had limited understanding of the matter.

The theme of the Conference – “Peace, Partnership and Prosperity: Towards a resilient future” – is very appropriate and timely. There is an intricate relation among the three to ensure a resilient future.

The discussion on Peace, Prosperity and Partnership for a Resilient Future in the Indian Ocean Region becomes all the more relevant in light of the recent Covid-19 pandemic, and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, and consequent sanctions and counter-sanctions. These have posed unprecedented challenges for all nations world over.

Global recession, food, energy, and fertilizer crises have resulted in unbearable living conditions for all people of the world. The Indian Ocean region has also been facing challenges such as climate change, maritime security, terrorism, and natural disasters. To overcome them, the countries in the region must come together to build partnership, and put collective efforts to promote peace and prosperity, for a brighter region.

In the context of the post-Covid world and the Russia-Ukraine war, a resolution titled “International Year of Dialogue as a Guarantee of Peace, 2023” was adopted unanimously at the UNGA in December 2022.

In that resolution, the historic quote of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from his 1974 UN speech, which is also the foreign policy dictum of Bangladesh, was inserted in the 14th paragraph of the resolution. It reads: “Recognizing the importance of combating poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, and unemployment, and emphasizing that friendship to all and malice towards none, in the spirit of constructive cooperation, dialogue, and mutual understanding, will help to achieve these objectives.”

It is so relevant for us in the Indian Ocean region as we endeavor to formulate actions for a resilient future. In line with the quote of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib, we need effective ‘partnership’ in the form of meaningful cooperation, dialogue and mutual understanding to achieve our shared objectives of ensuring peace and prosperity in the region.

Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his historic speech also said, “Peace is an imperative for the survival of mankind; it represents the deepest aspirations of men and women throughout the world.” In that speech, he particularly emphasized on keeping the Indian Ocean as a peaceful area.

In his pursuit of world peace and human rights, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was awarded the Joliot-Curie Medal of Peace on 23 May, 1973. Following Bangabandhu’s philosophy, Bangladesh became an ardent advocate for world peace. In 1997 at the United Nations General Assembly, Bangladesh tabled a resolution on “Culture of Peace” which was unanimously adopted.

Subsequently, the United Nations declared the year 2000 as the “International Year of Culture of Peace,” and designated the years 2001-2010 as the “Culture of Peace and the Decade of Non-violence.”

Bangladesh views the “Culture of Peace” as an essential element that will reinforce all aspects of peace. It is why Bangladesh is committed to UN’s global peacekeeping and peace-building endeavors. Currently Bangladeshi troops’ contribution to United Nations Peacekeeping is among the highest in the world.

Despite many challenges, Bangladesh provided temporary shelter to more than 1.1 million Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals. This gesture avoided a major humanitarian catastrophe in the region. Now, we seek active support of the global community to repatriate the Rohingya people to their homeland in a safe and sustainable manner.

Bangladesh believes in the challenges, traditional and non-traditional, that the Indian Ocean region is facing. Bangladesh remains committed to playing our role for peace in the region, and expect all other countries to do the same to ensure a resilient future.

Bangladesh, as a littoral state, has been a hub of maritime activities for centuries. It is active in many regional platforms. Bangladesh is the current Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. It is also the current President of the Council of the International Seabed Authority.

Over the last decade, Bangladesh made significant strides in socio-economic growth and social justice. Bangladesh is now the 35th largest economy in the world. Extreme poverty rate has gone down to 5.6% in recent years, and our per capita income has tripled to 2824 USD within a decade. Bangladesh has met all of the necessary criteria for graduating from the Least Developed Country (LDC) category to a developing country in 2026.

We aspire to build ‘Smart Bangladesh” with robust physical infrastructure to support a thriving economy. Last year, we inaugurated the self-funded ‘Padma Multi-purpose Bridge”. Recently we inaugurated the first-ever Metro Rail service in our capital. We shall soon complete the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel, a 3.2-kilometer under-river tunnel in Chattogram, the first of its kind in South Asia.

Our aspiration is to transform Bangladesh into a knowledge-based, modern, developed country, the ‘Sonar Bangla’ by 2041, and to build a prosperous and climate-resilient delta by 2100. Our strategy for achieving these goals involves promoting sustainable economic growth and generating opportunities for all.

Given its geographical position, the Indian Ocean holds significant importance for not only Bangladesh, but for all the countries in the region. We have recently formulated our Indo-Pacific Outlook.

In similar spirit, I would like to underscore six priority areas as follows:

 

  1. Countries in the Indian Ocean Region should foster “Maritime Diplomacy” for their development, thereby ensuring a prosperous future.
  2. Climate vulnerability of many countries in the region calls for the need to enhance cooperation to reduce the impact of natural disasters.
  3. Strengthen mutual trust and respect among the countries for building strong partnerships to ensure stability for a resilient future in the Indian Ocean.
  4. Strengthen existing mechanisms on maritime safety and security in the Indian Ocean, including response to emergencies at sea, conduct of search and rescue, uphold the exercise of freedom of navigation and over flight, in accordance with international law.
  5. Promote ‘culture of peace’ and people centric development in the region. Women, half of the global population, should get due attention, for building peaceful, just and inclusive societies in the region.
  6. Need to promote open, transparent, rules-based multilateral systems that facilitate equitable and sustainable development in the region and beyond through inclusive economic growth.

Author Brief Bio: Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina is the Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

Note: This article is based on the Text of the Speech delivered by H.E. Sheikh Hasina, Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh, in the Inaugural Session at the 6th Indian Ocean Conference 2023 in Dhaka on 12 May 2023.

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