Amid a slew of domestic issues and major international events like COP26, it is easy to overlook the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) meetings in Dhaka.
The senior officials' meeting has already taken place on 15 November and a meeting of the council of ministers of the organisation took place on 17 November.
Even though the Indian Ocean has always been of significant strategic and commercial importance, the stakes involved in this region rose exponentially with the rise of China from an emerging economy to a global power.
In 2004, the United States suspected China of adopting the "String of Pearls" strategy, under which China would acquire naval bases and docking rights in ports, first in the South China Sea and then in the Indian Ocean.
This paranoia only grew when, almost a decade after the "String of Pearls," China started the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a globe-spanning project connecting Asia, Africa and Europe that not only gave China an opportunity to project soft power, but also to breach its containment from the boundaries of the South China Sea.
Under this endeavour, countries would get enormous loans from China to fund infrastructure and economic development. But as Pakistan and Sri Lanka soon learned, those debts can quickly become unpayable. Thus, the defaulter country would have to lease strategically important locations to China.
A significant portion of the BRI is targeted towards the Indian Ocean as it is crucial for China. Roughly 80% of China's oil imports flows through this region, as do almost 95% of its exports to major trading partners in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
The six major land routes under this project will connect to the Gwadar port in Pakistan, allowing China to bypass the Andaman Islands and the Strait of Malacca. Thus, China can effectively eliminate any foreign threats to its supply lines.
This project is quite synergistic with China's increasing naval power. Currently, the country possesses more ships than any other navies in the world, including the US. This massive naval armament effort has caused quite a stir in international politics.
Besides establishing preeminence in the South China Sea, the country is also looking to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean.
It is worth noting at this point that there was no Chinese visit in the Indian Ocean in 1999. But since 2010, China has averaged almost 20 port visits in the region every year.
It is also the only country to establish embassies in all six of the island nations in this area.
But most crucially, under the BRI, China has already gained the Gwadar Port in Pakistan, Obock Military Base in Djibouti and the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka. It has also secured docking rights in Sudan, Maldives, Somalia and Sri Lanka.
These developments have certainly caused concerns among the US and its allies, especially India.
Consequently, in 2020, Donald Trump issued the Indo-Pacific Strategy which is supposed to dictate US policy in the region.
In May of this year, the US, Australia, Japan and India formed the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or QUAD.
September marked two crucial changes for the future of this region. AUKUS was formed on 15 September, as a trilateral security pact between the US, the United Kingdom and Australia, which aimed to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines, likely for defending their interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
The very next day, the EU released their "EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific." The US and the EU strategies are, in fact, relatively similar.
Both of these work plans focus on improving infrastructure, increasing private investment and foster trade in the region.
Under their strategy, the EU has already started to negotiate and renew trade deals with various South East Asian countries.
The organisation has also targeted to improve ocean governance, green transition, connectivity, research and innovation in this region.
It seems apparent that the US and EU both want to fight the soft power China holds over this region.
Needless to say, both of these documents focused heavily on security concerns and emphasised working with old and new partners like India and Japan to maintain stability and order in the region.
It is apparent that the aggressive posturing of China in the South China Sea will not be tolerated in the Indian Ocean.
This brings us back to the IORA meetings. Important stakeholders like Australia, France, India, Iran, Maldives, Somalia and Sri Lanka are members of this organisation. China, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US are its dialogue partners.
It is almost impossible to cater to the interests of all of these nations. But the IORA meetings can also defuse the tensions building up in this region and foster cooperation.
As one of the most crucial trading hubs, prosperity and peace in the Indian Ocean is not beneficial for just one nation, but for everyone.
If IORA can ensure a platform for effective dialogue between these nations and take advantage of the soft power tactics of the US, the EU and China, it can materialise benefits for all involved parties.
Bangladesh now is in a prime position to lead the future of the IORA. Foreign minister, Dr. AK Abdul Monem said on 14 November, "We do not want to see any unilateral dominance by any particular group or country in the Indian Ocean. This is our principle".
This is an appropriate response, thinks Dr. Delwar Hossain, professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka. "Bangladesh has always championed multilateralism and cooperation", he added, "All of our trade and security partners are aware of this unique trait. I believe this comment will go miles to portray our adherence to the principles we claim to foster".
Bangladesh has already become the chair of IORA for the next two years. Dr. Hossain believes that this will not only benefit Bangladesh, but the whole region.
"We are a small country, but we have sufficient credibility on the international stage", the professor added, "Bangladesh has led international organisations before with great success. Now it has a challenging task. But if Bangladesh manages to reduce tension in the region and bridge the gap between member countries, it will be possible for IORA to solve new and traditional problems that plague the region".
Even though the IORA meetings may seem inconsequential, the decisions from this meeting will be instrumental in increasing or decreasing geo-political tensions between the two superpowers of this world, and chart a new future for all of humanity.