RTV-VOA Workshop for Journalists on “Indo-Pacific Strategy: An Overview for Journalists”

     RTV-VOA Workshop for Journalists
“Indo-Pacific Strategy: An Overview for Journalists”
Monday, October 7, 2019


You know when I was in university I studied journalism for four years.  I didn’t have the courage to be a journalist so I joined the U.S. Marine Corps.  That’s a bit of a joke but it’s also an expression of my respect of journalists and the courage you have to have to maintain your integrity, dignity, and to speak truth to power and to operate in today’s world where it can be very difficult to be a journalist.  And that’s in every country because you’re buffeted by all kinds of different dynamics – tension with editors and owners and governments that don’t want to hear arguments or dissident voices – so I have enormous respect for journalists.  Napoleon once said, “four hostile newspapers are more to fear than a thousand bayonets,” which speaks to the power that journalists have.

Normally my remarks are quite brief – they might be a little longer today because I think this issue is just so important.  I appreciate that the whole idea of the Indo-Pacific Strategy – the Indo-Pacific Vision – it’s a little…what does it actually mean?  We have experts here that can – I hope they’ve done that yesterday – that can bore down into that and answer your questions.  But in broad strokes I’ll give you my take on the – I like to call it the Indo-Pacific Vision, it sounds gentler – the Indo-Pacific Strategy sounds very muscular and that’s not actually the point.

But I’m very grateful that you invited me here today. The Indo-Pacific – I don’t need to tell anyone here – is one of the most dynamic regions in the world today, full of great opportunities as well as challenges.  And the United States recognizes the central role it plays in American foreign policy.  We also recognize the security and prosperity of this region is essential – it’s critically important for the world.  And this is a great opportunity for us to again discuss the U.S. vision for how we view the Indo-Pacific Strategy, because after all the United States is an Indo-Pacific nation.

So, what exactly is the Indo-Pacific Strategy?  It’s our whole-of-government approach to boost U.S.-Indo-Pacific relations, and to protect and advance our shared principles at a time when the region faces new challenges and opportunities.  The Indo-Pacific Strategy supports a free and open Indo-Pacific in which sovereign and independent nations like Bangladesh can prosper in freedom and peace.  So, it empowers Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, and Nepal, and others – every country in the region – to create their destiny, not one dictated by any other nation.

This vision is rooted in the fact that the United States, as I said, is an Indo-Pacific country itself, and is deeply invested – literally and figuratively.  The United States’ foreign direct investment in Bangladesh and total foreign direct investments in the Indo-Pacific totals nearly $1 trillion – we are committed to upholding freedom of the seas.  The United States has defended human rights and fundamental freedoms and championed free, fair, and reciprocal trade in the region, as you all know, for decades.  And this has been our core work in the region, and it will continue under the Indo-Pacific Strategy.  Our long history of shared success is the bedrock of our ties, and the Indo-Pacific Strategy is our vision to boost these ties at this critical time.

That’s why we’re working with key partners, like Bangladesh, to protect and enhance a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific.  The bedrock principles such as peaceful resolution of disputes, freedom of navigation, open and transparent investment environments, and strong and responsible governing institution – these are principles that create the conditions for continued growth and prosperity that we’ve seen such amazing results over the past 70 years, and they remain critical for shaping a prosperous, peaceful future.

The question that you probably raised yesterday and may raise today – and I hear often – is “Is the Indo-Pacific Strategy the United States’ direct response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative?” or “Is it meant to contain China?” – the simple answer is “No.”  The Indo-Pacific Strategy is about far more than just infrastructure development, and it does not exclude any nation.  This vision is not about matching China dollar-for-dollar or creating our version of the Belt and Road Initiative.  We do not and will not ask any country to choose between the United States and China.  In my view, a rising tide lifts all boats.  I used to say the same thing when I was Ambassador in sub-Saharan Africa where there was enormous growth in Chinese investment, as well as other countries’ investment, which if done properly, is enormously beneficial for all countries.

Of course, like the United States, China is an Indo-Pacific nation, and we welcome constructive participation by all countries that uphold an international system based on clear, fair, and transparent rules.  And as you know, China is currently engaged in several major infrastructure projects in Bangladesh.  And these contributions to Bangladesh’s economy are incredibly valuable, as long as these projects are commercially competitive, and transparent, and follow international rules which offer a level playing field to all.  When the United States sees challenges to these free and open standards that’s governed the Indo-Pacific in its historic growth – yes, we will push back, because we believe a rules-based order, where countries adhere to international laws, rules, and standards, will best allow nations of all sizes to prosper in freedom and peace.

The Indo-Pacific Strategy focuses on three areas:  economics, good governance, and security.

Estimates show that this region will require about $26 trillion in infrastructure development by 2030.  No one country, either through government or state-owned enterprises, can provide such a level of funding or support.  It must come from the private sector.  The Indo-Pacific Strategy is helping the U.S. private sector do what it does best:  spark economic growth, innovation, and long-lasting prosperity.  It’s also why we are focusing on creating the conditions needed to unlock private-sector investment – over $70 trillion stockpiled in the world’s financial centers.  We want to make sure both private companies and the Bangladesh Government understand how to tap into this incredible potential.

To do this, the United States has launched initiatives to accelerate private sector investment, which I’m sure you’ll talk about today.  These initiatives encourage sound investments to support job-creating opportunities in key sectors.  To get things started, last July the United States announced $113 million in immediate funding for new initiatives focused primarily on the digital economy, infrastructure, and energy, as well as our first-ever contribution to the Indian Ocean Rim Association, or IORA (eye-OAR-ah).

As we discuss private sector investment – U.S. firms stand ready to invest in the Indo-Pacific and in Bangladesh.  I can’t tell you how much interest I receive almost every day about U.S. companies eager to come to Bangladesh and invest. It’s not lost on them that this country is on the rise, and that there 165 million potential consumers here for U.S. products.  And it’s really fun to see trade missions and trade delegations and CEOs now not just visit New Delhi but come over to Dhaka as well – and we’re going to see more and more of that in the future.  And the United States has launched a number of initiatives to accelerate private sector development and get things started.  The U.S. has a number of projects under way to enhance the more than $8 billion in two-way trade that occurred just last year.  And these clear and ripe opportunities for future growth are only going to grow and we are going to continue to encourage and support that interest.  Companies like Chevron continue to play a key role not only in Bangladesh’s energy sector, but also as a major employer in a growing economy.  We want U.S. companies such as Chevron, Coca-Cola, and others to continue to invest in Bangladesh and introduce new innovative technologies into the economy, bringing shared prosperity to more and more people.

Turning to our second focus, we recognize in order for nations to attract greater private sector investment there must be strong governance.  Weak institutions, corruption, and poor human rights conditions are all risks for businesses, and deter investment.  Companies can easily look elsewhere when faced with such risks.  Our focus on strengthening good governance goes hand-in-hand with the economic pillar of our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Transparency is a key principle identified by Indo-Pacific nations and regional institutions as fundamental to realizing our vision.  In November, we announced a new Indo-Pacific Transparency Initiative.  This initiative focuses on efforts to give the region’s citizens a voice in the future of their countries, help combat corruption, and strengthen nations’ autonomy.  The United States is devoting more than $400 million over the next two years to these important areas in concert with allies, partners, and regional institutions such as APEC and ASEAN.

Again, private companies, including American businesses, are hungry to invest in countries that operate transparently, uphold the rule of law, and protect intellectual property.  The Transparency Initiative will help Indo-Pacific nations attract private capital to help meet the region’s development needs, and promote greater prosperity.

Another key aspect of our focus on governance is the defense of fundamental freedoms – economic development and respect for democracy and human rights are mutually reinforcing.  There is a strong link between democratic development and continued economic growth and prosperity.  With its dynamic and fast-growing economy, Bangladesh’s future success will be fueled by strong democratic institutions and governing structures.  We hope the Bangladesh government, and all governments in the region, will continue to focus on renewing their commitments to sound, just, and responsive governance to protect human rights, individual freedoms, and democratic institutions.

And finally, the security pillar of the strategy centers around four areas critical to ensuring a free, open, and rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific:  maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, peacekeeping capabilities, and countering transnational crime.

In August, the United States designated nearly $300 million in additional security assistance for countries spanning the Indo-Pacific, including funding for the new Bay of Bengal Initiative which aims to boost maritime security in this critical part of the world.  This initiative will allow maritime nations in South Asia to respond to emerging threats by improving detection of and sharing information about illegal activities and actors who threaten the stability of the region.

$40 million of this additional security assistance is for Bangladesh.  This includes cost-sharing for Bangladesh’s purchase of U.S. defense articles and training for Bangladesh military personnel.  With enhance capabilities, Bangladesh is in a position to protect its interests and work with partners in the region to deter those who would seek to do harm.

Just as we are invested in Bangladesh’s international security, we have cooperated very closely on this nation’s internal security.  Since 2016, the United States has invested over $41 million in civilian security assistance aimed at countering security threats in Bangladesh and focused on helping Bangladesh counter terrorism.  We partner with Bangladeshi law enforcement to improve investigative techniques, detect and mitigate explosive devices, and counter terrorist use of the Internet to finance their efforts and recruit new members.  We funded a new Prison Database Management System for Bangladesh Prisons to track inmates, helping ensure they receive fair treatment while identifying high-risk prisoners.  We work with Bangladesh to counter the threat of foreign terrorist fighters who might seek to enter the country to cause harm.  And these are just a few of the many examples of how we work together to combat terrorism.

And that progress in combatting terrorism is laudable.  And we also work in the judicial sphere and with prosecutors and hope to work with the Bangladesh government to hasten the development of a Permanent Prosecution Service.  We also work with civil society, researchers, and police to build inclusive communities, combat terrorist propaganda, and support de-radicalization programs.  And again, respecting human rights and individual liberties is essential to a comprehensive security strategy where everyone is valued and no populations are marginalized.

Our core American values, that we encourage and share with our Indo-Pacific partners, are not new.  And the Indo-Pacific Strategy codifies what many of us already know – the stability of free and transparent governments, and the security of open and rules-based order in the region, have the potential to unlock – as I said – trillions of dollars in private sector investment – and that makes life better for us all.  Supporting a free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific is in my opinion in everyone’s best interest.  These principles enabled the rise of Bangladesh, China, and India, and Vietnam, and Singapore.  So shouldn’t we all work together to preserve those principles and ensure that everyone has a chance to benefit from them?

The United States is proud to support Bangladesh – there was a seminar held two weeks ago during UGNA, it was held in Boston, the title of the seminar was “Bangladesh Rising” and I think that’s absolutely accurate.  You can certainly sense it.  I do, as my first year as Ambassador as I travel around this remarkable country, and others do as well.  And I truly hope that during my remaining two and a half years in Bangladesh that people continue to see increased cooperation, a strengthening of our bilateral ties, more and more –as I said – trade missions and trade delegations and CEOs and others vising Bangladesh.  More education and cultural exchanges, and more conversations like this.

Let me just say again, I have tremendous admiration for the work you do. You do a very very difficult job very very well, and your society is in your debt, as am I for today. Thank you for kindly hosting us.