The recent developments in US policy towards Bangladesh could isolate an important player in the Indo-Pacific
As the United States develops its strategy for the Indo-Pacific, it cannot afford to overlook Bangladesh. This overlooked South Asian nation offers significant strategic advantages for advancing America’s regional goals. With proper engagement, Bangladesh can become a vital partner for the U.S. in the Indo-Pacific.
Geographic Reference: Bangladesh occupies a pivotal position in South and Southeast Asia. It lies along the Bay of Bengal, sharing borders with India and Myanmar. Consequently, Bangladesh plays a crucial role in connecting the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific.
Trade and Transport Hub: Bangladesh’s location between the overland corridors linking India, China, and mainland Southeast Asia positions it as a crossroads for trade and transport. Its extensive coastline also provides a strategic advantage for projecting power into the Bay of Bengal and accessing the broader Indian Ocean region.
Strategic Importance to India: Bangladesh’s proximity to India’s northeastern states adds to its strategic significance. Establishing military ties with Bangladesh offers India an alternative route to enhance security in a volatile peripheral region and counterbalance China’s expanding presence in Myanmar along its eastern border.
Maritime Assets: The deep-water ports under development in Bangladesh, including Matarbari, Cox’s Bazar, and Payra, represent substantial maritime assets in the Bay of Bengal. Granting the U.S. naval access to these ports could serve as staging grounds for expanded American security cooperation in the Indian Ocean and the broader Indo-Pacific.
Economic Growth: Bangladesh’s rapidly growing economy, with an average GDP growth rate exceeding 6% annually, positions it to attain upper-middle-income status by 2031. As a counterbalance to poverty and instability in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, a more prosperous Bangladesh shifts the strategic balance in South Asia toward the U.S. and India.
Democracy Bridge: Critically, Bangladesh acts as a democratic bridge between South and Southeast Asia. Alongside Indonesia and Malaysia, it can promote democratic values within the Muslim-majority nations of Southeast Asia.
China’s Engagement: China has increased diplomatic engagement and economic investment in Bangladesh through initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). As climate change threatens Bangladesh’s future, partnering with the U.S. offers an alternative to excessive reliance on Chinese infrastructure loans and technology.
Challenges and Opportunities: Bangladesh still grapples with challenges like political violence and threats of Islamist extremism. However, it has made significant strides in economic and human development. American investment in Bangladesh promises robust returns in boosting trade, enhancing climate resilience, and stabilizing democracy in a strategically vital region.
Bangladesh’s geopolitical location assigns it a substantial role in securing the Bay of Bengal and integrating South and Southeast Asia. Washington cannot afford to overlook or alienate this critical nation. With forward-looking diplomacy and development assistance, Bangladesh can emerge as a major strategic ally for America in the Indo-Pacific.
Rohit Sharma is a Senior Journalist who has lived in Washington DC since 2007. He currently is a contributor to Dainik Bhaskar, the world's third largest newspaper by readership. His opinion pieces feature on News 9 and The Quint. He has been invited as guest on the BBC, NDTV, India Today, AajTak, Times Now, Republic, Zee news and others. His work has featured in six Indian Languages.