Chair’s remarks by Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury

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Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be back in Dhaka among you for another edition of the Cosmos Dialogues’ Ambassador Lecture Series. I am delighted to find that this initiative of the Cosmos Foundation is picking up, and finding such resonance among Dhaka’s thinking classes, which is you.

I’ve heard Enayet’s plans with great interest, and I assure him of the support of ISAS and also mine. We intend to continue our collaboration in the manner that we have till date. Today, we shall focus on a country that is close to many of our hearts, certainly mine: Australia, which is ably represented in Bangladesh by High Commissioner Julia Niblett. Many bonds link our two countries and peoples together. Commonwealth, cricket, values, and vision, just to name a few.

It was on that anvil of learning, the Australian National University, that my own own mind and intellect were forged to observe, study, analyse, and thereafter in my own career, act upon matters of international relations. It was accomplished among some of the greatest names of the discipline of international relations. The mighty Hedley Bull, J.D.B. Miller, Des Ball, Robert O’ Neill, and others. Which makes this occasion doubly pleasurable for me.

But the subject of the discussion itself, Bangladesh-Australia relations, I shall leave to the high commissioner, and to the rest of the participants. I shall instead, as I am wont to do on these occasions, present the global milieu, the international matrix against which these bilateral relations are being conducted. My views are culled from my perspectives, gathered from where I am currently based, as you have heard, in that Little Red Dot, Singapore.

I hope that placing the discussion within such a context will help to broaden our deliberations and sharpen our understanding of the subject itself. As we speak, the so-called ‘liberal world order’, that is, institutions, alliances, economic arrangements and the democratic values that have provided the foundation of the global system so far, is under severe pressure. Key players have chosen to focus on their own narrow, perceived national self-interest, appearing to abandon universal norms underpinned by multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.

That does not augur well for a majority of the countries of the world who seek security and stability in the global rule of law and the prevalence of an international order. These create the enabling circumstances for countries like ours to concentrate on the welfare and development of our people. Almost as a corollary to this phenomena, we see the number of global flashpoints grow significantly. The rapidly deteriorating situation in the Middle East, including the prospects of a major conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the growing rivalry between the United States and China, including the trade war, and the impending separation of the United Kingdom from the European Union, including all its increasingly confusing complexities, the alarming rise of majoritarian nationalism with extremist predilections, all pose enormous challenges, and add to the chaos of this world without order.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in her speech at the UN, has proposed a 4-point plan towards a resolution of the Rohingya crisis, that is noteworthy. These require to be implemented, but the government can’t do it alone, or no government can. It would require the support of the broader community including think-tanks, to take those ideas forward. It is necessary for us to do the best we can given the prevalent milieu, and seize the opportunities that come our way. And indeed these are many. There are exciting opportunities for collaboration among the countries of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, Bay of Bengal littorals, and the Andaman Sea. A burgeoning focus would be appropriate, on husbanding (and I used that term advisedly, as opposed to the exploitative sense) maritime resources  and what is generally known as the blue economy.

Rising sea levels due to global warming, are of as much concern to us as they are to the small island states of the Pacific, Australia’s close and significant neighbours. The reason why I have provided a somewhat wider setting to our discussion, which is actually designed to review bilateral relations, is that often specifics are better comprehended when examined within a more general framework. As has been said, ‘What of England do they know, who only England know?’

Yes, Bangladesh and Australia have enjoyed long-standing links. But it is also true, that any relationship of this kind, is better situated among present-day strategic and economic imperatives rather than nostalgic musings. The simple but incontrovertible thesis of my remarks is that there is plenty of scope in our bilateral relations for that. I thank you.

  • DhakaCourier
  • Issue 14
  • Vol 36
  • Chair’s remarks by Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury

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