For 2015, The Diplomat presents “Diplomatic Access,” a series of exclusive interviews with ambassadors from the Asia-Pacific region. By talking to these diplomats, we’ll give readers a sense of each country’s perspective on various regional economic and security trends — from TPP to the Silk Road Economic Belt; from the South China Sea disputes to the Islamic State. Check out the whole series to date here.
In this interview, His Excellency Mohammad Ziauddin, Ambassador of Bangladesh to the United States, discusses regional connectivity, maritime disputes, and regional security threats.
The Diplomat: From Bangladesh’s perspective, what are the greatest threats facing the South Asian Region? What can we do to address these issues?
Amb. Ziauddin: The South Asian region, with a combined population of over one and a half billion people, is faced with a number of threats. Of these, poverty, climate change, and terrorism are the prominent ones. These threats cannot be overcome alone but with the combined effort of the countries in the region and with the support of the development partners. All would need to work together for common prosperity with a thrust on education and economic cooperation. Efforts in these two areas would ensure both domestic and regional economic development.
A factor for quickening development is good connectivity of roads, rail, water, and air in the region. Good connectivity could bolster vibrant trade and commerce among the countries. These in turn could help in creating an enlightened and prosperous populace thus ridding the region of extremism and terrorism, tackling climate change, and facing all other challenges threatening the region.
In 2014, a UN Court ruled in favor of Bangladesh in a maritime territorial dispute with India. What was Bangladesh’s experience working with an international arbitration process on this issue and can this be an example for other bilateral territorial disputes in Asia?
The Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s foreign policy dictum, “Friendship towards all, malice towards none,” remains even today the foundation of our foreign policy. Thus, with our immediate neighbors, India and Myanmar, Bangladesh maintains good relations, With India, our relationship is special as it provided shelter to over ten million refugees when genocide was unleashed by the Pakistani occupation forces from March 25, 1971, and subsequently, helped us in fighting for Bangladesh’s independence
Therefore, due to our excellent relations with both Myanmar and India, the decisions taken by the international arbitration process on the demarcation of the maritime territory between Bangladesh and those two friendly countries, were accepted spontaneously by all in the spirit of friendship and understanding. Bangladesh was happy with the fair, just, and conclusive decision of the international arbitration process. It reflected and reaffirmed the integrity and correctness of the arbitration process. As for Bangladesh, it remains convinced that such maritime differences between countries can all be solved in a similar manner in a friendly environment created by friendly relations.
Bangladesh is naturally an integral part of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). How do you see these regional organizations evolving in coming years and what role will Bangladesh play?
Other than the tremendous advancement of information and communication technology, the intensification of trade and travelling has transformed our world into a global village. Much of these lucrative activities have been also made possible by the surging development of connectivity among countries within regions, neighboring regions, and even beyond, by roads, rail, water and air. Such growing transport communications and their benefits have led neighboring countries to establish regional organizations to regulate and encourage a more efficient, effective, and profitable interaction.
Bangladesh has felt the need of the same, more so because of its strategic location as a natural bridge between South and Southeast Asia. Thus, its involvement in the establishment on June 6, 1997 of BIMSTEC comprising Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan, and Nepal. We believe that BIMSTEC would be able to interact fruitfully among its members and also with neighboring regional organizations as SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), and extending the reach to ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) and even beyond.
As for Bangladesh’s role, it is clear that whether it be BIMSTEC or be the other regional organizations, its strategic location will inevitably ensure it as the economic hub of the region, or even of the greater region. Bangladesh’s role would thus be of a catalyst for all countries not only in BIMSTEC, but also in SAARC and ASEAN, to prosper.
Bangladesh is also part of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor, or the BCIM. How can Bangladesh contribute to this economic grouping and what does Bangladesh hope to gain from its participation?
The Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor or BCIM is another excellent development of physical communication by roads/highways among four neighboring countries. Bangladesh with its market of 160 million people falls literally in the middle with India’s 1.2 billion market in the west, China with 1.4 billion market in the north and Myanmar’s 70 million market in the east. With excellent connection among these huge markets, a frenzy of economic activity is inevitable among the four countries. In the center of it all would be Bangladesh, reaping substantial benefits.
What, in your view, is the greatest misconception or misunderstanding about Bangladesh’s position in Asia and its foreign policy?
As already mentioned, Bangladesh’s foreign policy is based on the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s dictum, “Friendship towards all, malice towards none.” Bangladesh has practiced this policy since its birth in 1971. As a consequence, we are proud of our success in maintaining good relationship with all countries in the region and the world. Bangladesh believes that with such good relations it enjoys full cooperation of all countries and helped reap wonderful mutual benefits.