Geopolitical significance of the Bay of Bengal
Geopolitics examines the political and strategic significance of geography in this context geography is defined in terms of the location, size and resources of the places. The geographical location of the Bay of Bengal is a determinant fact that influences the domestic and external affairs of the basin countries of the Bay of Bengal very much. The geopolitical significance of the Bay of Bengal is very influential to the context of Bangladesh, as a very important country along the shore of the Bay of Bengal. From the view point of different perspectives, the geopolitical significance of the Bay of Bengal can be analyzed. This assignment tries to focus these perspectives with relevant case studies importantly.
The Geographic Situation of the Bay of Bengal:
The Bay of Bengal is the northern extension of the Indian Ocean. It is mostly situated in the south Asia. It is roughly triangular in shape. It is positioned between India and Srilanka in the west, Bangladesh to the north, and Myanmar and the northern part of the Malay Peninsula that is Andaman and Nicobar islands to the east. Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia are also the basin countries of the Bay of Bengal. The Bay of Bengal is the largest bay of the world. Its area is 2, 172, 000 square kilometer. It is approximately 1600 km wide with an average depth of 8500 feet or 2600 meters. The maximum depth is recorded at 15400 feet or 4694 meters.
Fig: The map of the Bay of Bengal
Geopolitical Significance of the Bay of Bengal:
The Bay of Bengal bears a lot of geopolitical significances. To the context of Bangladesh, the geopolitical significance of the Bay of Bengal is awesome. Here, the geopolitical significances of the Bay of Bengal to the context of South Asia, especially to the context of Bangladesh are inscribed. Importantly, the geopolitical significance of the Bay of Bengal contains the following features, I think:
1. Geographic Signifance
2. Economic Significances
3. Strategic Significance
Geographers identify varied items that demonstrate the geographic significance of the Bay of Bengal to the context of the study of Political Geography. These features are discussed following:
Numerous large rivers drain into the water of the Bay of Bengal. Rivers of the Indian Subcontinent flow from the east to west through Bangladesh into the Bay of Bengal. The Padma, the Meghna, the Brahmaputra flow from the north. In the south, the Mahanadi, Krishna, Kaveri, Irrawaddy, Godavari Rivers flow. The shortest classified river which drains into the Bay of Bengal is Cooum River. It is 64 kilometers long. The Brahmaputra is the largest river that flows into the Bay of Bengal which is 2,948kilometers long. The Brahmaputra flows over China, Assam and Bangladesh. The Sundarbans is formed at the delta of the river Ganges, Meghna and Brahmaputra on the Bay of Bengal.
The islands in the bay are very numerous. They include the Andaman Islands and Nicobar and Mergui groups of India. The group of islands, Cheduba and others, in the north-east, off the Burmese coast, is remarkable for a chain of mud volcanoes. They are occasionally active. Great Andaman is the main archipelago or island group of Andaman Islands. Only 37 of the 572 islands and islets of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are inhabited or 6.5%.
There are many sea beaches on the Bay of Bengal. The world’s largest sea beach in the world, Coxs Bazaar, is situated in Bangladesh. Kuakata and Saint Martin are also the world’s famous beaches of Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal. Both sunrise and sunset can be seen from the beach, Kuakata. From the Pure beach of India, the amazing view of sunrise and sunset can be observed. Other beaches from India are Bakkhali, Mndarmani, Digha, Chandipur, Waltair, and Marina Beach. Nagapali and Arugram are the beaches from Myanmar and Srilanka.
There are many sea ports in the Bay of Bengal. Some of the ports are the largest sea ports of the world. Chittagong sea port of Bangladesh is one of the largest ports of the world. Kolkata, Chennai ports of India are also very famous. Yangoon is the largest city and sea port of Myanmar. Pondicherry Vishakhapatnam, Kakinada is the others Indian ports on the bay.
A zone 50 m wide extending from the island of Ceylon and the Coromandel Coast to the head of the bay. It is bounded by the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the sea bottom of 100 meters. Opposite the mouth of the Ganges, however, the intervals between these depths are very much extended by deltaic influence. Swatch of No Ground is a 14 km-wide deep sea canyon of the Bay of Bengal. The deepest recorded area of this valley is about 1340 meter .The submarine canyon is part of the Bengal Fan, the largest submarine fan in the world.
Flora and Fauna:
The Bay of Bengal is full of biological diversity, diverging amongst coral reefs, estuaries, fish spawning and nursery areas. The Bay of Bengal is one of the World’s 64 largest marine ecosystems. Kerilia jerdonii is a sea snake of the Bay of Bengal. Glory of Bengal Cone (Conus bengalensis) is just one of the seashells which can be photographed along beaches of the Bay of Bengal. An endangered species is the Olive Ridley sea turtle can survive because of the nesting grounds made available at the Gahirmatha Marine Wildlife Sanctuary, Gahirmatha Beach, and Orissa, India. Marlin, barracuda, yellow fin tuna, Indopacific humpbacked dolphin and are a few of the marine animals. Bay of Bengal Hogfish (Bodianus neilli) is a type of Wrass which live in turbid lagoon reefs or shallow coastal reefs. Schools of dolphins can be seen, whether they are the bottle nosed dolphin, pantropical spotted dolphin or the spinner dolphin. Tuna and dolphins are usually residing in the same waters. In shallower and warmer coastal waters the Irrawaddy dolphins can be found. The Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve provides sanctuary to many animals some of which include the saltwater crocodile giant Leatherback Sea Turtle and Malyan Box Turtle to name a few. The Sundarbans, bordering the Bay of Bengal is the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest of the world. Another endangered species Royal Bengal Tiger is supported by Sundarbans a large estuarine delta that holds a mangrove area in the Ganges River Delta.
From January to October, the current is northward flowing, and the clockwise circulation pattern is called the “East Indian Current.” The Bay of Bengal monsoon moves in a northwest direction striking the Nicobar and the Andaman Islands first end of May, then the North Eastern Coast of India by end of June. The remainder of the year, the counterclockwise current is southwestward flowing, and the circulation pattern is called the East Indian Winter Jet. September and December see very active weather, season varsha (or monsoon), in the Bay of Bengal producing severe Cyclones which affect Eastern India. Several efforts have been initiated to cope with Storm surge.
Weather conditions are often brutal in the Bay of Bengal as the area is ravished by heavy monsoon rains, both summer and winter. Destructive cyclones are common in the spring and fall months, bringing intense winds and severe flooding. Because of its low-lying land, southern Bangladesh is especially susceptible to these storms. A tropical storm with rotating winds blowing at speeds of 74 miles (119 kilometers) per hour is called cyclones when they originate over the Bay of Bengal; they are hurricanes in the Atlantic. Between 100,000 and 500,000 residents of Bangladesh were killed because of the 1970 Cyclone Bhola. The countries on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, India and Srilanka suffer a lot due to several very severe cyclonic storms in recent years like Giri, Nargis, Sidr, Mala etc.
The Bay of Bengal plays a vital role in the economy of the basin countries of it. It also possesses a great potentiality in near future. Here some factors that determine the economy of the basin countries a lot are stated.
The Bay of Bengal, for its amazing sea beaches and historic sites is very attractive to the tourists from the different parts of the world. That is why; tourism industry in this region is so fabulous. Tourism influences the economy of the countries bordered by the Bay of Bengal. Coxs Bazaar, Kuakata, Saint Martin beaches are visited every year by a huge sum of tourists. It really strengthens the economy of Bangladesh a lot. Bangladesh can make more profit from tourism if necessary steps are taken for the betterment of tourism industry. Puri, Ngpali, Arugam, Digha are also visited by the tourists frequently.
There are many historic sites that also attract tourists a lot. The remains of Sri Vaisakheswara Swamy temple lies under the Bay of Bengal. Spokespersons from Andhra University Centre for Marine Archaeology say the temple may be located opposite the Coastal Battery. Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram is the name for Mahabalipuram. Mahabalipuram Shore Temple was constructed in the 8th century AD and myth has it that six other temples were also built here. Another historic site which has been preserved is Vivekandar Illam. It was constructed in 1842 by the Ice King Frederic Tudor to store and market ice year round. In 1897, Swami Vivekandar famous lectures were recorded here at Castle Kernan. The site is an exhibition devoted to Swami Vivekananda and his legacy. Konak is the home of the Sun Temple or Black Pagoda. This Brahman sanctuary was built of black granite mid 1200 AD and has been declared a World Heritage Site. Ramanathaswami Temple is also a very famous temple to be visited by travelers.
Trading Ventures and Economic Corporations:
There have been many trading ventures along the Bay of Bengal since the 17th century. The primitive trading ventures along the Bay of Bengal shoreline were British East India Company and French East India Company etc .So, the history of the Indian Subcontinent has a great linkage to the trading corporations of the Bay of Bengal.
Several economic corporations are also created along the countries of the shore of the Bay of Bengal. BIMSTEC is one of them.
BIMSTEC stands for Bay of Bengal Initiative for MultiSectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation. BIMSTEC supports free trade internationally around the Bay of Bengal between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Srilanka, and Thailand. BIMSTEC has thirteen priority sectors cover all areas of cooperation. They include the followings:
1. Trade and Investment, led by Bangladesh
2. Transport and Communication, led by India
3. Energy, led by Myanmar
4. Tourism, led by India
5. Technology, led by Sri Lanka
6. Fisheries, led by Thailand
7. Agriculture, led by Myanmar
8. Public Health, led by Thailand
9. Poverty Alleviation, led by Nepal
10. Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime, led by India
11. Environment and Natural Disaster Management, led by India
12. Culture, led by Bhutan
13. People to People contact, led by Thailand
Asian Development Bank (ADB) is the development partner of BIMSTEC since 2006.Project like BIMSTEC Transport Infrastructure and Logistic Study (BTILS) is finished through joint venture.
The Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project is a new venture proposed which would create a channel for a shipping route to link the Gulf of Mannar with the Bay of Bengal. This would connect India east to west without the necessity of going around Sri Lanka.
There are many sedimentary islands in the coast line of the Bay of Bengal. Fishing is the most significant economic activity on these islands. Fishermen can catch between 26 and 44 species of marine fish. In one year, the average catch is 2 million tons of fish from the Bay of Bengal alone. The coastal and marine fisheries have been playing considerable roles not only in the social and economic development of the countries bordered by the Bay of Bengal but also in the regional ecological balance.
To the context of Bangladesh, fisheries resources are the blessings of the economy of the country. The fisheries resources fulfill the protein requirement of the teeming millions .The lion’s share of foreign exchange earnings of Bangladesh comes from this sector. Eight species of Tuna and Skipjack and a number of potential species of Mackerels, Shark, Ray, Sardines, Anchovies, Shad and cephalopods, soles and flat-fish, lobster etc. are available in Bangladesh waters. A total of 50 species of crabs, 30 species of mollusks have so far been recorded from the coastal and marine habitats of the Bay of Bengal. Fourteen species of seaweeds were recorded from the St. Martin’s Island .Four species of Acropora and 10 other coral reef genera have been reported from off shore islands, seafronts of newly formed islands and some low lying coastal areas are often carpeted with sea grass.
Mari culture can develop the livelihood security of the coastal communities. It can play a significant role in the national economy by providing raw materials for various industries along with export to international markets. Besides, it will check the overexploitation from the natural sources ensuring the future prospects and sustainability of the resource utilization.
The minimal elevations of the coastal area from the mean sea level made its extremely susceptible to flooding produced by monsoons, tidal streams, cyclones, and, increasingly, by sea-level rise caused by climate change. But it is quite ridiculous to think how a country like Bangladesh with a booming population of about 160 million is not coming forward to utilize and manage her marine and coastal resources.
The Bay of Bengal is really situated with crucial geographical features. Because of it’s a crucial location, strategically it is very important. Various states interests are diversified. That is why various strategies are exercised by various countries. The Bay of Bengal is centrally located in the region from the Middle East to the Philippine Sea. Even from aviations strategic aerial position it lies at the centre. It lies at dead center of two huge economic blocks, the SAARC and ASEAN. China’s southern landlocked region in the north, and major sea ports of Bangladesh and India are rising economically, though with chaotic democracies. Bangladesh, China and India have forged naval cooperation agreements with Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia to increase its cooperation in checking terrorism in the high seas.<href=”#cite_note-atimes.com-26″> The Bay of Bengal is strategically crucial for since it is a natural extension of its sphere of influence. Secondly because of the presence of outlying islands, namely Andaman Islands and Nicobar Islands and most importantly several major ports such as Kolkata, Chennai, Vizag along its coast with the Bay of Bengal.
<href=”#cite_note-atimes.com-26″>China has recently made some efforts to project influence into the region through tie-ups with Myanmar and Bangladesh. The United States held several major exercises with Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. The largest ever war-game in Bay of Bengal, known as Malabar 2007 was held in 2007 and naval warships from US, Singapore, Japan and Australia took part in it. India was also a participant. Large deposits of natural gas also incited a serious up for grabs urgency by India. Disputes over rights of some oil and gas blocks have caused brief diplomatic spats between Myanmar and India with Bangladesh.
To explain the strategic significance of the Bay of Bengal, maritime disputes among Bangladesh, Myanmar and India are discussed following:
Dispute between Bangladesh and India over South Talpatti:
South Talpatti Island as it is known in Bangladesh or New Moore Island or Purbasha in India. It emerged in the Bay of Bengal in the aftermath of the Bhola cyclone in 1970. It is situated two kilometer from the mouth of international border river Hariabhanga. Its area is about 10,000 square meters and it is increasing. It is flowing between Satkhira district of Bangladesh and South24 Parganas district of West Bengal, India. Both countries claimed this Island but Bangladesh claimed it strongly about 10 year’s after from when it is discovered. There are no people living in South Talpatti Island because of its unstable geographic condition. India has hoisted their flag in South Talpatti Island and they established a base of their Border Security Force (BSF). No decision is concluded which country is the real owner of this Island. Technically Talpatti falls under the Bangladesh-India border. India has gone so forward to claim South Talpatti and a huge area of Bangladeshi maritime boundary. Bangladesh failed to keep harmony with India. Bangladesh should to be prepared enough. There are some reasons are active not to let Bangladesh prepared for it. Mostly they are related with our politics.
In 1971, when the issue is born, East Pakistan could not look after it because of liberation war. East Pakistan became Bangladesh and during the war India claimed and collected information on this island to get sovereignty on it quickly along with helping us to get independence. This double-faced activity of India created doubtfulness from the beginning.
After liberation war, the new administration was not so strong to look after this issue. We could not claim and collect information on this Island that time. A great break down has come to Bangladesh during 1975. Bangladesh claimed for this island in 1979 first. The government of India promised different times about settling the problem but it couldn’t be possible because of political changes of Bangladesh and India. Then Bangladesh should to face different political disaster in the country that we could not stand strongly yet. Till now Bangladeshis has no unity and couldn’t practice a fair democracy here. We think political instability and corruption of politics are the main reason not gets a settlement on the debate of South Talpatti. For ensuring security of Bangladesh it is very much important to get the sovereignty of South Talpatti. By international laws and geographical state of the island we may easily ask for getting it as ours. But we need a strong leadership and strong foreign policies to stand before international community. People should to be more conscious and united in national interests. Intellects should research more for betterment of our country. We wish by the co-operation with the people of all sectors, government will be successful to ensure the security of Bangladesh.
The End of the Dispute over Maritime Boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar:
Bangladesh had been struggling a lot for the dispute over maritime boundary with Myanmar for 3 decades. This dispute raised a hue and cry in 2008.When army-backed caretaker regime invited bids for offshore exploration in February 2008 after dividing its sea territory in the Bay into 28 blocks. But both India and Myanmar raised objections in all most all the blocks bordering “their maritime boundaries” that prevented Bangladesh from exploring for oil-gas. Myanmar even claimed rights to part of an area of Bangladesh and at the peak of the dispute in 2008, a war-like situation developed when both countries sent their navy to the disputed area. Consequently, in October, 2009, Bangladesh went into the international court for the settlement. At last, on the14th March, 2012, Bangladesh won a landmark verdict at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. This verdict sustained its claim to 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic and territorial rights in the Bay of Bengal rejecting the claims of Myanmar. The verdict of the court went absolutely in Bangladesh’s favor and even beyond, as it gave more than what Bangladesh had asked for. The judgment is final and cannot be appealed against. The verdict of the tribunal gave Bangladesh a substantial share of the outer continental shelf beyond 200 miles, which would open ways for offshore oil and gas exploration in the Bay. The tribunal also awarded Bangladesh a full 12-mile territorial sea around St Martin’s Island, overruling Myanmar’s argument that the island be cut in half and shared. The tribunal, based in Hamburg, Germany, was established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to adjudicate disputes between states concerning issues covered by the convention, including the delimitation of maritime boundaries. Under a UN charter, the principle of “equity” takes into account a country’s population, economic status and needs, GDP growth, and other issues, while the “equidistance” system marks the boundary through geometric calculations. According to the UNCLOS, any such dispute should be resolved on the basis of equity, and in the light of relevant circumstances. This makes Bangladesh’s demand for equity-based demarcation justified. Myanmar wanted its maritime boundary with Bangladesh cut directly across the Bangladesh coastline, severely truncating Bangladesh’s maritime jurisdiction to a narrow wedge of sea not extending beyond 130 miles. Myanmar also claimed that the tribunal lacked jurisdiction to award continental shelf rights beyond 200 miles from either
state’s coast. The tribunal rejected both these arguments.
Figure: The dispute over maritime boundary between Myanmar and Bangladesh
Possibilities of Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal:
Bangladesh is endowed with vast marine and coastal waters having an area of about 1.5 times more than that of her total land mass. The environment is under the dynamic interface between terrestrial systems and marine systems dominated by wave actions and tidal currents from the Bay of Bengal. The geographical position and climatic condition of Bangladesh have made her coastal areas one of the highly productive areas of the world. Diverse and abundant marine and coastal life forms and mineral and petroleum resources as well as the potential use of tidal and wave energy is becoming increasingly important to ensure the socio-economic development and fulfilling the strategic objectives of the country. Bangladesh’s winning its maritime boundary claim over Myanmar’s implies that the country will now have a larger deep sea oil and gas exploration area in the eastern Bay of Bengal. So, the country has a long way to go for proper utilization and management of her marine and coastal resources for national flourishing and sovereignty with an integrated and holistic approach. The government should come forward in this regard and the Bangladesh Navy and other research and academic institutes should extend co-operation in studying the physical and dynamic processes of the sea in various fields of oceanography, to facilitate exploration and exploitation of sea resources while the regional understanding and relationship couldn’t be over locked.
The above analysis over the geopolitical reality and its impact on the internal and external affairs of the basin countries gives the understanding that the South Asian countries can hardly avoid the Bay of Bengal for their own countries interest. Many possibilities will exist in near future for these countries, especially for Bangladesh. Bangladesh needs to be very attentive for the implementation of the suggested initiatives for its development.