The United States on Wednesday said they have no issue with Bangladesh in improving relations with other countries mentioning that its Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) is not a direct counter to China or China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
“We expect Bangladesh will have good relations with its neighbours and we’ve no issue with Bangladesh in improving relations with other countries,” said US Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall G. Schriver.
The senior US defence official, while talking to a small group of journalists at a city hotel before wrapping up his brief visit, said the IPS is a free, open and inclusive vision and they seek “stronger” defence relationship and closer partnership with Bangladesh.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen recently said Bangladesh will effectively remain engaged in any future ‘Indo-Pacific Alliance’ for its economic aspects.
US Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall G. Schriver
“We’re sure we’ll be effectively engaged in any future Indo-Pacific Alliance if it’s found to be purely economic in nature,” he said adding that Bangladesh has already joined China’s BRI.
Schriver said it happens to be the case that the BRI being driven by Chinese interest does have a particular impact on many countries that “concerns” them.
He said the IPS is their “whole-of-government” approach to protect and advance shared principles in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific, in which sovereign and independent nations like Bangladesh can prosper in freedom and peace.
“The IPS empowers Bangladesh and every other country in the region to create their own destiny, and to not merely accept a destiny dictated to them by any other nation,” said the senior US official.
Schriver said some have characterised the IPS as a response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative or an anti-China narrative. “Let me be very clear - IPS is an affirmative and inclusive strategy that seeks to preserve the rules-based international order for the security, prosperity, and stability of all countries in the region. China included.”
He said they believe the IPS helps ensure larger countries obey the rules just as smaller countries do.
“It encourages countries to recognise their own leverage in negotiating deals that protect their sovereignty and increase economic development – and for Bangladesh, support your goal of middle-income country status by 2021.”
Schriver said the government of Bangladesh should view the Indo-Pacific Strategy as an open opportunity to advance many of Bangladesh’s national and international objectives.
He said many of those initiatives related to BRI, they see, lead to erosion of those (IPS) principles. “Otherwise, they’re not direct counter.”
“When I talked about alignments, I think general proposition of supporting sovereignty, strong prosperous state, stable secure Bangladesh, including into the maritime domain, confidence of having awareness and ability to respond and protect the interests in those areas,” he said.
In general, Schriver said, Bangladesh being supporter of international law, international norms, he found that is evident in how well Bangladesh is represented in the international forums and it is doing so much in international peacekeeping.
“So, I think, there’re a lot of alignments. I said our strategy is inclusive, not that someone looks up and signs up and be an ally,” he added.
He said countries obviously make sovereign choices and have their own views on things. “But on the core issues, I think we do alignments and we want to seek to operationalise our relationship in ways that are supportive of the those shared values and goals.”
During his meetings with top government and military officials, Schriver talked about the IPS that has several pillars, including economic, good governance and security.
Being part of the department of defence, he focused mostly on the security pillar of the IPS and explained their vision which is an inclusive one.
The IPS supports free, fair, and reciprocal trade, open investment environments, good governance, and freedom of the seas are goals shared by all who wish to prosper in a free and open future.
During his discussions here, the senior US official said he was able to see lots of alignments in Bangladesh’s views and their views.
The US side discussed a number of initiatives to strengthen defence partnership and cooperation, including the proposed two “foundational defence” agreements -- General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA).
Responding to a question on GSOMIA and ACSA, Schriver said they want to do these in a correct way in terms of making sure that they have mutual confidence and both sides see benefits. “We’re interested in making sure it’s done correctly and properly.”
He said the “sense of urgency” relates to the fact that they want to do more and want to advance the defense relationship with further cooperation. “So, our urgency just comes from a desire to move this relationship forward and these are important steps.”
Schriver termed these two proposed agreements foundational and enabling agreements saying it will help open opportunity for more cooperation, information sharing and closer cooperation.
He said they also discussed priority areas -- counterterrorism, maritime security and internal challenges to Rohingya situation to understand how the two countries can be good partner and support Bangladesh address its challenges.
Schriver appreciated Bangladesh’s contribution to peacekeeping operations with tremendous record. “It’s very impressive contribution.”
On Rohingya issue, the US defence official laid emphasis on “durable solution” to Rohingya crisis with “conditions appropriate and conducive” for peaceful return of Rohingyas that needs to be sustained.
“We use the means that are available to us,” he said adding that they will also continue to support Bangladesh which has provided temporary shelter to over 1.1 million Rohingyas.
The US senior official said they have a very limited defence engagement or military-to-military engagement with Myanmar.