Bangladesh’s maritime prospects from a geopolitical perspective

Khalid Mahmud Bappy

Taking advantage of a country’s resources and putting them to good use may help it thrive. Among all the assets, Bangladesh’s geopolitical position can have one of the more significant impacts when China, Russia, and the USA enter into the cold war again, intending to become superpowers. As a developing country, Bangladesh can’t aim to rival them. Instead, it can choose a side and get benefits from all these countries, or instead provide partial support to a few of them to achieve its agenda, like getting duty-free exports, subsidies on imports of human resources supply, and many more.

According to UNCLOS III’s report, Bangladesh has entered into an era where its maritime zone has become 1.4 times greater with 2,07,000 square kilometres than the actual landmass of 1,47,570 square kilometres. With the proper utilisation of this vast area, we can achieve a few strong upper hands, which are discussed in my academic journal paper, “SWOT Analysis of the Stand in Geopolitics of Bangladesh’s Maritime Sector in Achieving Vision 2041.” A few major vital points will be summarised here, along with the current situation in the world due to the Ukraine-Russia War.

The Asian Highway will collaborate with the landlocked Seven Sisters, Nepal, Bhutan, and China.

Source: Geographical Influential Regions of Bangladesh (Khalid, 2021)

Bangladesh’s maritime sectors have vast opportunities, but the country’s geopolitical themes are different, and in the following section, we will identify and discuss how that can be achieved, along with mentioning the threats.

Nepal, Bhutan

The photo shows that we have a few landlocked regions around Bangladesh, namely Nepal, Bhutan, and the Seven Sisters of India. In these three landlocked regions, we can benefit geographically from our position, and in return, we can get geopolitical support from major  South Asian nations like India, Bhutan, and Nepal. But the question arises, how? Transportation of goods and maintaining a supply chain are necessary worldwide, and as we have seen, the import-dependent countries are heavily shaken by the COVID-19 situation due to the COVID-19 supply chain collapse.

Therefore, what will happen to Nepal and Bhutan if India shuts its borders during the time of their import crisis? Geographically, Bangladesh has to play an important role here because Bangladesh can be an alternative option for becoming a supply chain route through the Chittagong port, and the distance will be shorter if they carry the goods through the Bangladeshi Highway. From the Rangpur region, the goods can again be transferred through India, and in the case of India’s border lock, they can be transported by air. For the short distance, it won’t make a considerable cost difference.

India

India has already tried to pass their goods to the landlocked seven sisters through Bangladesh as it cuts the distance by 1/3rd of the whole route. Through the Chittagong port, international trade can be boosted between the seven sisters and the rest of the world. As long as Bangladesh takes advantage of this chance and India gives this offer again, Bangladesh can make India’s North Eastern Part very dependent on us.

China

China is also dependent on this because they started their silk road initiative, and they want to connect the Chittagong port to their sea route, and they are already providing geopolitical benefits to us. Huge loans and technical support are often in the news, but we must be concerned about China’s debt trap. As China’s ambition is to become a global power, they need our support in the Bay of Bengal at any cost.

United States

The United States dominates the world by showing its military might. But sadly, or luckily for us, they don’t have any military bases in the Bay of Bengal or the South Asian region. Therefore, they heavily provide benefits to gather more support to establish a base here. Also, they offered to annex the Rakhine Province to Bangladesh if needed. But the unseen future can be predicted. They will most likely want a base if they do it. In return, that will be a significant disadvantage for us in securing state security. But until they have this desire, Bangladesh can still get benefits from them.

Russia

Russia, like the United States, is not directly or indirectly linked to our geopolitical position. But it has a great bond with China, and China is doing a lot of projects in Bangladesh, and Russia is setting up the first nuclear power plant in Bangladesh. The vast ocean area needed to be researched, and there is a huge potential for getting gas and oil out of that area. Bangladesh can be jointly assisted by Russia and China with technical support. If they succeed, they will both oppose the USA in the Bay of Bengal, and Bangladesh will enjoy sovereignty over its natural resources.

Vast diplomatic opportunity is there based on our geopolitical stand. We just have to avoid the threats and grab the opportunities. With the improvement of our strengths, our weaknesses will go away one day. Upon everything, our country is set to become a prosperous one, just we need the tweak, and hopefully, our government will take steps to make the country great again how it was in middle age.

 (Khalid Mahmud Bappy is a student of the Department of Maritime Law and Policy, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Maritime University) 


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