How much Bangladesh foreign policy inching towards a balanced state?

How much Bangladesh foreign policy inching towards a balanced state?

SAM Report,
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Is Bangladesh looking for a new track of foreign relationship? Some of the recent events are being analyzed in the light of this question. Along with India, Bangladesh played a vital role in boycotting SAARC conference in Islamabad.  At the same time, Afghanistan and Bhutan also supported this decision. Remaining members of SAARC- Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Maldives- had somewhat a neutral stance. Immediately after the SAARC summit was postponed, Chinese president Xi Jinping had a two-day tour of Bangladesh. The Chinese president and his delegates were greeted with a warm welcome from Bangladesh government.  During this visit, Bangladesh received large investment and economic support which exceeded the expectation. The treaties and agreements signed during this tour didn’t include the deep sea port of Beijing, but China showed no tendency of limiting their support.

How this unexpected amount of investment and aid will impact Beijing’s influence over Dhaka is a subject of for Delhi. When Bangladesh prime minister met Indian prime minister at the BRICS summit meeting, Modi wanted to know more about this from Sheikh Hasina, they didn’t have any farewell meeting after that.

According to a source close to the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina told Modi that she expected about 6 billion dollars in aid. But the Chinese president assured of  fulfilling all the demands of Bangladesh.

Postponement of the SAARC summit and India’s aggressive diplomatic efforts to corner Pakistan is perceived a bit one sided in the South Asian balance of power according to China. China newspapers have been reporting about the government’s monitoring of this issue. Unilateral influence of India on a region that is so close to Chinese border is not being seen as a favorable situation. Although as usual China didn’t show any dramatic reaction from the top level. Instead, they chose an alternative way to extend their influence. One of the methods they will be taking is strengthening economic relations with countries of South-Asia to restore the balance of power. Most of the countries in this region need foreign investment for infrastructural development. Already many countries are favoring China as the capacity of World Bank and western countries are limited.

In the recent times, Bangladesh tried to get financial assistance from Japan. Although Japan extended helps to many important Bangladeshi projects like Padma Bridge this was not enough. In this situation, there was no alternative of  excepting a highly co-operative relationship with China.  However, Bangladesh government constantly informed India about the situation with China assistance to avoid any aversion from Delhi. At the same time, Bangladesh carefully avoided any Chinese project that directly clashes with Indian interest.  This is the reason Dhaka didn’t advance with Sonia Deep sea project which was a high-priority proposal from China. Even more when China wanted to individually invest in Payra Sea Port, Dhaka didn’t respond accordingly. But at the end of the day, the mutual relationship between these two parties didn’t collapse and China continued giving support to various projects.

Outside of the regular relations between China and Bangladesh, the President Xi’s visit to Bangladesh had special significance along with extensive investment proposal which raised suspicion at the top level of Delhi.  India wants to play a similar role in South-Asia, comparable to the dictator type role the USA is playing in NATO.

Raja Mohan, who is known as the informal policy advisor of Narendra Modi, recently wrote a column about China-phobia in the Indian Express where he mentioned that other countries in NATO accepted the commanding role of United States. In this region, Pakistan is the primary obstacle for India in playing the similar role. Although the formal reason for not attending the SAARC conference was the accused backing of terrorism by Islamabad, it is assumed as a step towards the previously mentioned agenda. Delhi expected that they will get support from all others country except for Pakistan on the SAARC issue. At the end, China’s involvement with Pakistan didn’t let this happen. The attempt of charging Pakistan with terrorism at BRICS and BIMSTEC conference that was held in Goa was also a failure. Two major Asian powers-China and Russian- did not accept that. However, as part of this ongoing process, there will be an anti-terrorism conference in India with the collaboration of Bangladesh. It was also mentioned that Pakistan will not be invited to this conference. It remains to be seen how successful this initiative will be.

The SAARC summit was foiled by blaming the terrorist attack on Pakistan that took place in Indian cantonment of Uri, Kashmir. On the other hand, after Narendra Modi addressed the Balochistan situation on republic day there were serial terrorist attacks, latest being  in Quetta where 60 training candidate died.  Afghanistan-based Taliban groups claimed responsibility for this attack. It is assumed that Afghanistan and Indian intelligences are linked to this group.  It’s been indicated that the main goal of these attacks is to disrupt the Pakistan-China corridor that is in the process of making. India was opposing this project from the very start.

Such incidents are forcing China to directly involve in Pakistan-India conflict. As a result of a country like Bangladesh which is diplomatically and strategically dependent on India, it will be interesting how it will maintain the balance with China.  India is trying to keep south Asian countries away from Chinese influence.  But the problem with India is not being financially capable enough to help these countries. So most of the countries who are barely developing by nature are falling back to China’s financial assistance.  How Bangladesh maintains this balance remains to be seen right now. [Copy edited].

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