Panel on “Untangling the Myriad of Multilateral Frameworks in the Indo-Pacific”
Pan Pacific Sonargaon Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Monday, November 21, 2022
(as prepared for delivery)
We stand today in the early years of a decisive decade. Not just for the Bay of Bengal, but for the broader Indo-Pacific region, and for the world.
The window of opportunity to deal with shared threats is closing fast.
Will we end this decade knowing we have put our planet on a path to healing?
Will we build more resilient public health systems and pandemic response mechanisms?
Will we uphold and honor the fundamental principles of the UN Charter—sovereignty and territorial integrity?
Will we be able to ensure food security?
The actions we take now—together as a global community—will shape whether this period is known as an age of conflict and discord or the beginning of a more stable and prosperous future.
Much of that future will be written right here in the Indo-Pacific. Stretching from the Pacific coastline of the United States to the Indian Ocean, the Indo-Pacific is the most dynamic region in the world. It is home to more than half of the world’s people and nearly two-thirds of the world’s economy. What happens here affects the entire world.
Today, I’d like to share the United States’ vision for the region and describe two challenges we see to achieving this vision: rising competition from autocracies and looming transnational threats, like climate change.
A Shared Vision
Our vision is a shared vision. The Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina described Bangladesh’s vision for the region at the 2021 Paris Peace Forum. She said:
The Indo-Pacific region must be an area of peace and prosperity for all. Our vision for
the region is to have a free, open, peaceful, secure, and inclusive region.
The United States wholeheartedly agrees. We seek to work with Bangladesh and other partners to build an Indo-Pacific that has five elements. We want a region that is:
- Free and open
- Secure, and
We share this vision with many other nations.
We each may call it something different—a strategy, a vision, a tilt, an outlook—but there is incredible overlap. That is part of our collective strength—finding areas where our visions overlap and partnering to move those goals forward together.
I want to say this at the beginning, our strategy is not about forcing countries to choose sides. It’s about ensuring that the region is free and open so countries can freely make their own choices.
Let me take each of the five key elements of the United States’ vision in turn.
First, we will advance a free and open Indo-Pacific, where goods and ideas and people will flow freely across land, cyberspace, and the open seas with governance that is transparent and responsive to the people.
Bangladesh has made important contributions to this cause. For instance, by committing to the peaceful resolution of its land and maritime border disputes, Bangladesh has made the Bay of Bengal an example for the world to follow.
Regarding transparent and responsive governance, the United States will continue to support universal human rights and stand in solidarity with those who seek freedom and dignity just as we continue the critical work of ensuring equity and equal treatment under law at home.
We will work to strengthen democracy both at home and around the world, and we will not be shy about championing human rights. We do this because democratic governance not only consistently outperforms authoritarianism in protecting human dignity, but it also leads to more prosperous and resilient societies.
The second element is the United States will continue to forge stronger connections within and beyond the region. We must work together as a regional community to tackle our shared challenges. This means strengthening old partnerships and forging new ones.
I am proud to share the stage with close friends and partners from Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom. We each have our own perspectives. We have our own strengths. And we have our own national interests. But I believe we all have a shared vision for the future and a firm belief that we must work together and with other nations to achieve that vision.
In this regard, I would like to thank Bangladesh for chairing the Indian Ocean Rim Association meeting later this week.
Third, the United States will promote broad-based prosperity, so that no one gets left behind in the 21st century.
The United States and 13 partner countries launched negotiations for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, or IPEF, a novel economic arrangement that reflects our collective desire to address 21st century challenges that go beyond trade and investment.
The membership of IPEF reflects the economic diversity of the region as well as the interconnectivity among partner countries that drives economic growth, job creation, and innovation.
As President Biden said at the launch, IPEF is intended to be open and inclusive to others who wish to join in the future if they share the goals of IPEF and work to achieve those goals.
We will continue to work on these issues and grow our economic partnership bilaterally with all nations, including Bangladesh.
Fourth, the United States will bolster Indo-Pacific security.
For 75 years, the United States has maintained a strong and consistent defense presence in the region and will continue to contribute to the region’s stability and peace.
We will seek closer security cooperation with partners to tackle challenges ranging from violent extremism to illegal fishing to human trafficking.
The United States is proud to partner with Bangladesh on these challenges and more. For instance, we co-hosted the Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar in September, which brought together 24 nations right here in Dhaka to share ideas, build relationships, and very importantly, speak frankly about security challenges.
A big security challenge to the region’s stability is the brutal military coup in Burma and the genocide against Rohingya. The atrocities and violence Burma’s military regime continues to inflict upon its own people show no sign of ending. And yet, some countries continue to supply lethal assistance to Burma’s military regime, enabling its violence and repression.
For this reason, on November 8, the U.S. Department of Treasury imposed sanctions on a key supplier of military aircraft parts to Burma’s military. We urge all countries immediately to stop the sale or transfer of arms, military equipment, dual-use equipment, and technical assistance to Burma. And the United States will continue to work with allies and partners to hold Burma accountable through sanctions and international pressure.
The fifth element of the U.S. strategy for this important region is to help build regional resilience to transnational threats.
The United States will work to enhance partners’ resilience to transnational challenges. These challenges include climate and biological threats. As we all know, the Indo-Pacific is the epicenter of the climate crisis, and this region is essential to climate solutions. Our shared responses to the climate crisis are not only a political imperative but also an economic opportunity.
Through the U.S. Agency for International Development, we have offered our response with climate change and environmental protection assistance. This support promotes biodiversity and ecosystem conservation and strengthens environmental governance and management in two key biodiverse areas of Bangladesh: the Sundarbans Reserve Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in the southwest and the ecologically critical forests and wetlands in the southeast and northeast, respectively. Our assistance over the past 20 years has helped Bangladesh protect its natural resources and biodiversity by bringing together local communities and the government to co-manage more than one million hectares of land. As a result, Bangladesh’s climate resilience has grown stronger.
We welcome other opportunities to develop partnerships to implement climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies to achieve the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change for Bangladesh and the broader Bay of Bengal region.
We are also partnering to help the region build resilience to pandemic disease and to strengthen its health systems. I recently traveled to Narayanganj to celebrate the milestone of the United States providing over 100 million vaccines to Bangladesh. This milestone underscores the strong partnership between our two countries and is just one part of the incredible progress Bangladesh has made in fully vaccinating nearly 75 percent of the entire population.
Our vision for an open, interconnected, prosperous, secure, and resilient Indo-Pacific is under threat. We face two broad challenges.
The most pressing strategic challenge facing our vision is from authoritarian powers trying to alter the fundamental rules of the road in international affairs.
For example, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded its neighbor, attempting to erase a sovereign state from the map. Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine has had far-reaching consequences. We will continue to work with allies and partners to combat the strain this has placed on the global economy, on food security, and on energy markets.
If Putin stops fighting, the turmoil ends. If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends.
Let me also speak frankly about China. Last week, President Biden made it clear to President Xi Jinping that the United Sates is not looking for conflict but to manage competition responsibly. They discussed a range of issues. President Biden has asked Secretary Blinken to travel to China to follow up on those discussions and keep lines of communications open.
China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it.
China is also integral to the global economy and to our ability to solve challenges from climate to COVID-19. Put simply, the United States and China must deal with each other for the foreseeable future.
Let me be direct about the competition between the United States and China, by quoting President Biden’s address to the UN General Assembly in September:
As we manage shifting geopolitical trends, the United States will conduct itself as a
reasonable leader. We do not seek conflict. We do not seek a Cold War. We do not ask
any nation to choose between the United States or any other partner.
But the United States will be unabashed in promoting our vision of a free, open, secure,
and prosperous world and what we have to offer communities of nations:
Investments that are designed not to foster
dependency, but to alleviate burdens and help
nations become self-sufficient; [and]
Partnerships not to create political obligation,
but because we know our own success—each
of our success is increased when other nations
succeed as well.
U.S. diplomacy is based on partnership and respect for each other’s interests.
We don’t expect every country to have the exact same assessment of China as we do.
We know that many countries, including the United States, have vital economic or people-to-people ties with China that they want to preserve.
Let me be clear. This is not about forcing countries to choose. It’s about giving them a choice.
The second challenge to this vision is that while this competition is underway, people all over the world are struggling to cope with the effects of shared problems that cross borders—whether it is climate change, food insecurity, communicable diseases, or inflation.
These shared challenges are not secondary to geopolitics. They are at the very core of national and international security and must be treated as such. By their very nature, these challenges require governments to cooperate if they are to solve them.
To take on the larger challenge of food insecurity, the United States introduced a Call to Action: a roadmap to eliminating global food insecurity that more than 100 nation member states have already supported.
And through USAID’s Feed the Future initiative across the world and right here in Bangladesh, the United States is scaling up innovative ways to get drought- and heat-resistant seeds into the hands of farmers who need them. Farmers are receiving fertilizer and improving fertilizer efficiency so that they can grow more food while using less fertilizer.
The United States is committed to meeting its global responsibility to tackle climate change, by working to deliver funding to international climate finance to help lower-income countries implement their climate goals and ensure a just energy transition.
A key part of this effort is the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience, also known as the PREPARE plan. Launched by President Biden at COP 27, this whole-of-government initiative will help half a billion people, and especially vulnerable countries, adapt to the impacts of climate change and build resilience.
The United States is ready to work with every nation, including our competitors, to address global, transnational problems like climate change.
In closing, we cannot afford to ignore any of these challenges. In President Biden’s address to the UN General Assembly in September he laid out the common ground we share and his vision for cooperation with all nations:
To stand against global politics of fear and
To defend the sovereign rights of smaller nations as equal to those of larger ones;
To embrace basic principles like freedom of navigation, respect for international law,
and arms control; [and]
No matter what else we may disagree on, that is the common ground upon which we must
We stand today in the early years of a decisive decade. Let us work together to the strengthen the foundations of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and around the world. Thank you.