Bangladesh and the US need each other

Today, the focus of attention by almost all major, middle or minor powers has pivoted to Asia. Contextually, the Indo-Pacific region is strategically at the heart of Asia. The increasing attention upon Bangladesh emanates from it being perceived as a bridging nation located at Asia's very epicentre. Bangladesh's prosperity is and will continue to be derived from this role and will also depend on its ability to maintain the best of relations with all countries, whether near or far from it. Indeed, its survival and continuing prosperity as a state depends on judicious management of its geostrategic location.

At the same time, this locational advantage and importance also devolves on Bangladesh an onerous responsibility. For Bangladesh to continue serving as a facilitator of free maritime passage in the Bay of Bengal nested in the larger Indo-Pacific region in the vast global Oceanic Commons, there must be common understanding that it is in its own larger interest as well as the interest of all. However, ensuring this requires greater regional cooperation than the peoples of the region have so far have had or indulged in. Bangladesh has always ardently advocated cooperation among neighbours. It has consistently punched well above its weight in promoting regional cooperation, as clearly evinced from its active roles in the formation of Saarc, Bimstec and IORA, as well as its proactive role in fostering subregional cooperation within the BBIN. Bangladesh can, and should, now look to working in concert with other Bay of Bengal littoral and adjacent countries (who together comprise a quarter of the world's population) to engage together in economic cooperation. Such cooperation could organically progress towards the emergence of a Bay of Bengal Economic Community, whose aggregate GDP would only be surpassed at current rates by the US, China, and the European Union. The US can help Bangladesh's leading role as the facilitator of this process.

Given Bangladesh's centrality, the US needs a stable and prosperous Bangladesh, just as Bangladesh needs the US as a continuing interdependent development partner. Of course, Bangladesh also needs to demonstrate its role as exemplar by ensuring better governance of itself that is based on the exemplary standards of social justice and egalitarian rights for all its own citizens as well. However, in this endeavour, the US, with its head start of over 250 years in nation-building and state consolidation, would surely recall its own many challenges that it has had to overcome. Today, the US can draw upon its own often difficult experience and assist Bangladesh, which embarked on its journey as an independent state a mere 50 years ago. It can help Bangladesh in capacity-building and institutional development towards an inclusive rules-based society, avoiding the pitfalls that it itself faced and is still facing to some extent.

Bangladesh has historically been part of ancient Indo-Pacific connectivity, and it has declared that it shall continue to be a part of ensuring future connectivity in the region. It is indeed in Bangladesh's interest to advocate and work for an open, resilient, and interconnected Indo-Pacific, because its own continuing sustainability as an independent, sovereign prosperous nation-state depends on this.

As an increasingly self-confident and prosperous Bangladesh moves away from a sense of obligatory dependency that defined its relationship with the US in the last 50 years, it is in the US' interest to promote a sense of growing interdependence with the relatively new nation-state that is Bangladesh, looking ahead at the next 50 years.