Australian expert Dr David Brewster said there are gaps in Bangladesh’s maritime security capabilities which must first be developed or improved with a full picture of its maritime domain.
“Bangladesh doesn’t have a clear picture of what’s going on in the maritime realm,” Brewster, who specializes in South Asia and Indian Ocean strategic affairs, told UNB during of an interview.
He said there must be a system for Bangladesh to understand what is happening there and there is a need to create a base to benefit from the blue economy.
The expert said, for example, that there is illegal fishing but no one has ever done a proper study of its extent.
“It’s an absolutely fundamental thing,” he said, adding, “Study first if you want to take advantage of marine resources. You have to do the study to understand it – the amount of resources and the scale of illegal fishing.
Brewster, from the National Security College in Canberra, focused on raising awareness of all that’s going on in the maritime realm – illegal fishing, drug trafficking and human trafficking, where appropriate.
“In my view, Australia can be very helpful in Bangladesh,” he said, mentioning that the lack of a clear picture hampers law enforcement and the protection of maritime resources.
Brewster said Australia had useful experience in this area and could help Bangladesh develop its maritime search and rescue capabilities.
“We want to see all of our neighbors have the capacity to properly manage and govern their maritime spaces. More broadly, we want to see a stable and prosperous Bangladesh,” the expert said.
He said Australia could also provide targeted capacity building assistance on certain transnational security issues.
Speaking of the growing “competition and rivalries” between major powers in the region, the Australian expert said: “I have to say that Bangladesh has handled this competition very well, at least so far.”
Appreciating the process and policies followed by Bangladesh in terms of projects and investments, he said, “In my opinion, Bangladesh has been very careful.”
Responding to a question, Brewster said that beyond the economy, Bangladesh and Australia have many common interests in the region in terms of stability, resilience and ensuring that other countries in the region are stable and resilient.
He said Bangladesh has become a more active player and has a lot to offer. “This region is not only a playground for big players; we all have interests in regional stability and prosperity.
Responding to a question, Brewster said Bangladesh does not want to be forced to make choices as there are multiple great power initiatives.
“I think it’s understandable…Bangladesh has options. It is not forced to any particular (group). Bangladesh has created options with great success,” he added.
Brewster said you can’t just sign up for the Quad or the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative). “This is not the case.”
Of course, he said, there will be opportunities to cooperate with Quad countries on issues if it makes sense for Bangladesh to do so.
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, commonly referred to as the “Quad”, is a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan and the United States that is maintained through talks among member countries.
Regarding great power competition, Brewster said, “I see a lot of debate here in Bangladesh about what this will mean for the country and whether or not it will adopt a strategy towards the Indo-Pacific.”
“It’s up to Bangladesh to decide,” he added.
The expert said Australia and Bangladesh have many good reasons to step up their relationship as Indian Ocean partners.
He said Australia had long been a major donor to Bangladesh, including during the Rohingya crisis.
“But now is the time to build a more global and multifaceted partnership. There are also many ways for Australia and Bangladesh to work together in the Indian Ocean to strengthen regional security and tackle climate change,” Brewster said.
Australia has identified the northeast Indian Ocean as a key area for enhanced strategic engagement.
This should be part of an overall plan to target emerging economic tigers such as Bangladesh, he said.
A strategic partnership with Bangladesh would also fit in with Australia’s approach to developing a network of Indo-Pacific middle-power relations, Brewster said.