Rivalry between the United States and China is a foreign policy headache for Bangladesh
Rivalry between the United States and China is a foreign policy headache for Bangladesh

Rivalry between the United States and China is a foreign policy headache for Bangladesh

Chinese Ambassador Li Jiming recently sought to warn a potential alliance partner in Bangladesh not to join the Quad, adding that Bangladesh would “significantly damage” its relations with China by joining the alliance aimed at countering China’s expansion in the South Asian region.

The ambassador’s remarks were then sharply criticized by Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abdul Momen as being presumptuous, as Quad had not yet approached the government, further stating that the decision to join or not is entirely a sovereign issue. The mother expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the perceived “interference” from the Chinese ambassador and called the statement “aggressive” and “regrettable”. According to the minister, the country’s foreign policy adheres to the principles of freedom of alliance and maintains a “balanced” approach that is independent of any external influence or pressure.

Washington has certainly taken note of the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister’s response to China’s ‘warning’ about the Quad as a self-assertive act regarding the sovereign nation’s right to determine its (own) foreign policy. For his part, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying denied the alleged interference, pointing out that a “clique” under the guise of Quad “saw the seeds of disagreement” between regional states and China. Chunying went on to characterize Quad as an organization dedicated to slandering China’s emergence; and one who practices “hegemonism.”

However, at a subsequent meeting with the Secretary of State, Ambassador Li Jiming suggested that the comment was an answer to a question and a personal opinionmisunderstood by the media, rather than an attitude of the Chinese government.

The Indian media described the Bangladeshi government’s response as a “curative rejection” of Beijing’s prayer for a key partner within the strategically located coast of the Indian Ocean.

However, in an article published by the Daily Star, former ambassador Humayun Kabir points out that the mere proposal of a Chinese diplomat does not constitute “interference”, as perceived by the local media and officials in Dhaka.

Although this case can be dismissed as a diplomatic one faux pas, several questions have been raised by opposing sides, which deserve an introspective review.

Bangladesh remained non-committal in response to expressions of interest from both China and the United States, which sought to establish a form of defense-security partnership. In prioritizing national security and foreign policy issues, Chinese leaders appear to focus first on economic interests followed by security aspects; compared to the Americans, who put security and strategic interests ahead of all economic and investment prospects. In contrast, Bangladesh’s recent foreign policy practices place top priority on economic growth in its discussions with external powers, often ignoring any attempt to create security or defense partnerships. In conclusion, this raises the question – will any of the regional or global powers be willing to come to the aid of Bangladesh in the event of a crisis, without such security commitments?

Bangladesh appears to have been caught in the US-China rivalry in the South Asia / Indian Ocean region. Specifically, this competition appears to be about controlling access to the Bay of Bengal and projecting sphere of influence (s) through the Indo-Pacific region.

Prudent policy makers and strategic analysts cannot rule out the possibility of a potential conflict erupting in the event of an intrusion near the Bay of Bengal by naval powers competing for strategic space. The likelihood of such an outbreak of hostilities between opposing naval powers in the Bay of Bengal has worsened recently due to persistent political instability in neighboring Myanmar.

It is thus possible that the unrest next door could eventually spread to Bangladesh’s territory. As noted by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and confirmed by Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abdul Momen, the presence of more than one million Rohingya in refugee camps in the coastal city of Cox’s Bazar could be a source of destabilizing influence on regional security.

Wei Fenghe, China’s defense minister, held meetings with Bangladeshi President Abdul Hamid and the army chief on April 27, in which Wei expressed a strong desire to “jointly maintain regional peace and stability” and jointly thwart “alliances and hegemonic influences from external powers. ”

What strategic interest is at stake for China? As Tuneer Mukherjee argue in Diplomats“The Indian Ocean and its surrounding waters are home to China’s main shipping routes and there is a need to protect its economic and energy security from an opposing power seeking to violate Chinese access to these waters. China has therefore embarked on an agenda to actualize a commercial support base in [Indian Ocean region]which could later be exploited militarily. “Another BBC report on China’s ‘pearl row’ strategy in the Indian Ocean region concludes that” large-scale aid to Chittagong port development represents Beijing’s attempt to achieve some special purpose. “

Beijing rejects any such connection in its commitment to the development of Chittagong Port. However, the example of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port suggests otherwise.

Major geopolitical implications surrounding the development of the port of Chittagong cannot be completely ruled out, as the location of the Bay of Bengal is highly desirable in order to advance China’s strategic interests. Beijing had previously pressured the Bangladeshi government to proceed with the deep seaport project in Sonadia in the hope of gaining a foothold in the Bay of Bengal. Objections from Delhi convinced the government to drop the project during the Prime Minister’s visit to Beijing in March 2014, which caused great disappointment to the Chinese leadership.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao signed an agreement with the visiting Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, in March 2014 on an estimated $ 8.7 billion investment to develop the port of Chittagong. Plans to transform the port of Patenga into a regional hub had been designed to meet the demand for shipping in Bangladesh, the northeastern states of India, and access for Chinese commercial vessels and naval vessels to the Bay of Bengal.

The Sino-Bangladesh cooperation on the port development project paved the way for the subsequent financing of mega-infrastructure and energy projects and extended the Belt and Road Initiative to Bangladesh. China is now able to exert a leverage effect on the debtor nation and can at an appropriate time convert the commercial purpose of the port development into dual use, as the contracts potentially allow lenders to influence debtors’ domestic and foreign policies.

A recent review of 100 debt contracts with foreign governments published in AIDDATA’s examination justified This is how China lends describes the concepts that typically associate foreign policy with aid. Foreign aid is often used by developed nations to influence the behavior of recipient countries. And as the largest official creditor in the world, China has adopted even stricter terms and conditionsaccording to the study.

China is on guard against Western democracies working against their economic expansion and the establishment of security and strategic partnerships in the coastal areas of the Indian Ocean. China has to contend with its biggest rival India, the dominant power in the region, while operating in India’s backyard. It also needs to counter the intrusive powers of the United States and its alliance partners (Quaden) in the Indian Ocean.

What appears to be a strategic move on the part of the Secretary of Defense is likely to stem from a fear of this “bulwark against China” organized by the US-led Quadrilateral Defense Dialogue. Strong campaigns by the US Secretary of State to build an anti-China coalition of democracies, by strengthening security ties and emphasizing military-to-military cooperation with the Indo-Pacific countries, have heightened general tensions in the region. Recent military agreements signed by the United States with India and the Maldives; and the Malabar exercises in the Quad highlighted the sense of threat emanating from China’s strategic expansion into the Indian Ocean.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is an informal organization in development in the United States, Australia, Japan and India focusing on regional security in the Indo-Pacific region. Primary goals for Quad are the creation of a rules-based international order and a free and open Indo-Pacific.

In the wake of the US-China competition to win allies in the Indo-Pacific region and a gradual shift of strategic focus towards the shores of the Indian Ocean – Bangladesh achieved prominence in the eyes of these global and regional powers.

As US-China strategic competition assumed a military dimension on both sides of the equation, it seemed urgent to elevate the strategic partnership with Bangladesh to a military-to-military alliance to be the way forward for the Chinese defense minister Wei Fenghe. China’s long-standing friendship with Bangladesh – dating back to the signing of the umbrella agreement on defense cooperation in December 2002, followed by the upgrade of the defense pact to a strategic partnership by President Xi during his visit to Dhaka in 2016 – provided sufficient confidence to try to take the relationship to the next level.

China is also Bangladesh’s largest trading partner, with two-way trade expected to reach $ 18 billion by 2021. The majority of the country’s defense purchases (almost 65%) come from China, with total purchases of $ 2.85 billion over the past two decades (2000) -2019). The Bangladesh fleet also purchased two Ming-class submarines from China.

BRI funds committed to energy, transportation and infrastructure development are estimated at $ 24 billion and potentially scale up to $ 42 billion when all loans, grants, technical assistance and investments in joint ventures are taken into account. BRI funds played a crucial role in maintaining the nation’s upward movement on its growth path.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Geopoliticalmonitor.com

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