Bangladesh is rising as an essential website of massive energy competitors.
The nation has witnessed a flurry of visits from U.S. and Chinese language officers in latest weeks. On January 14, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu was in Dhaka, the place he held a collection of conferences with political events, senior officers, and civil society leaders. The earlier week, Rear Admiral Eileen Laubacher, the senior director for South Asia on the White Home’s Nationwide Safety Council, was in Bangladesh on a four-day go to. She met Bangladesh’s Overseas Minister Abul Kalam Abdul Momen on January 9.
A day after Laubacher’s assembly with Momen, newly appointed Chinese language Overseas Minister Qin Gang stopped over at Dhaka to fulfill his Bangladeshi counterpart on the airport. This was his first-ever go to overseas as international minister.
The go to broke with Chinese language diplomatic custom. It’s customary for Chinese language international ministers to make an African nation the vacation spot of their first international go to annually, however this yr, the brand new international minister touched down in Dhaka first. Though Qin was heading to Africa and the assembly with Momen was not an official go to, the Chinese language international minister’s quick halt within the Bangladeshi capital – he met Momen on the airport for lower than an hour and in the midst of the evening – was important and didn’t go unnoticed in diplomatic circles in Dhaka and overseas.
Quickly after Qin’s go to, a high-level delegation of the Chinese language Communist Get together (CCP) led by the deputy head of the Worldwide Division of the CCP Central Committee, Chen Zhou, arrived in Bangladesh. The delegation held lectures deciphering the spirit of the twentieth CCP Nationwide Congress.
Because it emerged as an unbiased nation in 1971, Bangladesh’s international coverage has been primarily based on “friendship to all and malice to none.” This technique has labored nicely for the nation. Nonetheless, more and more, the massive powers are pressuring Dhaka to take sides of their rivalries.
In October 2020, then-U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun invited Bangladesh to affix the Quad. Describing Bangladesh as a key associate within the Indo-Pacific area, Beigun careworn the U.S. dedication to “growing our partnership… to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
“Bangladesh will be a centerpiece of our work in the region,” he added.
The U.S. try to attract Bangladesh into its Indo-Pacific technique prompted a Chinese language response. In Might 2021, Chinese language Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming warned that “Bangladesh’s relations with China will substantially be damaged” if Bangladesh joins “the small club of four,” i.e. the Quad. Though China has typically known as on Bangladesh to remain impartial between the massive powers, it’s wooing Dhaka to affix its International Improvement Initiative (GDI) and the International Safety Initiative (GSI).
In the meantime, the US and Russia have been partaking in a confrontation over Bangladesh. In late December, Russian Overseas Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova slammed the U.S. at an everyday press briefing in Moscow. The U.S. ambassador in Dhaka, Peter D. Haas, is “persistently trying to influence the domestic processes in the country,” she mentioned.
Earlier, the Russian embassy in Dhaka had launched a press release criticizing “the hegemonic ambitions” of nations that establish themselves as “developed democracies.” “Under the pretext of protecting ‘democratic values’, work is underway to interfere in the internal affairs of those who are out of favor with the states that consider themselves ‘rulers of the world,’” it added.
Russia’s criticism of the U.S. got here amid Haas’ mounting outreach on points referring to Bangladesh’s home politics.
Throughout a go to to the Election Fee of Bangladesh in June, when he met Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal, Haas known as for “transparent” elections within the nation. Bangladesh is scheduled to vote in nationwide elections in December this yr. Common elections in 2013 and 2018 drew international criticism for large irregularities, and there’s concern now that the ruling Awami League is not going to maintain free and honest elections.
Extra lately, Haas visited the household of opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Get together chief Sajedul Islam Sumon, who has been lacking for a decade. Over the previous decade, the AL authorities has jailed a whole bunch of BNP leaders and activists. Amid an financial disaster, a rejuvenated BNP has been spearheading nationwide mass protests towards the federal government’s mishandling of the financial system. These protests culminated in a large rally in Dhaka on December 10, the place a number of BNP leaders have been arrested. Haas’ go to to Sumon’s residence got here a couple of days after the Dhaka rally.
Responding to the Russian criticism of its meddling in Bangladesh’s home politics, the U.S. embassy in Dhaka tweeted that the US is at all times towards interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.
Reacting to the Russia-U.S. statements and counter-statements, Momen stepped in to say that Bangladesh does “not want Russia, the USA or any other country to interfere in our internal matters.”
Bangladesh’s location within the Bay of Bengal supplies it with geopolitical significance. The famous scholar of geopolitics Robert Kaplan predicted that “the Indian Ocean will be the center of global conflicts” attributable to its significance as a delivery path to the world financial system. The pursuits and influences of the massive powers overlap and intersect within the Indian Ocean. In response to Kaplan, the twenty first century’s “global power dynamics will be revealed” within the Indian Ocean.
As an Indian Ocean littoral, Bangladesh gives the massive powers an essential launching pad to increase their community in South Asia and the Indian Ocean.
Chinese language geopolitical pursuits within the Indian Ocean are well-known. With a lot of its commerce with the Gulf and Africa performed by way of the Indian Ocean, Beijing has sought to reinforce its presence within the area by way of the Belt and Highway Initiative. It has made appreciable progress on this regard.
As for the U.S., if prior to now Pakistan and India have been the main target of its diplomatic efforts, more and more Washington is popping its consideration to different South Asian nations, together with Bangladesh, Nepal, and Myanmar. The Burma Act, which authorizes the “Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development activities in Burma and the surrounding region to support democracy activists, humanitarian assistance, and reconciliation efforts” alerts the character of its engagement in these nations.
In Bangladesh, the US has grow to be more and more vocal on democracy points. In December 2021, it imposed sanctions on the Speedy Motion Battalion, Bangladesh’s elite paramilitary power, and on seven of its present and former officers for human rights violations.
Bangladesh may have performed a extra assertive function in big-power rivalries. However its inside political frictions, financial disaster, legitimacy disaster, lack of democratic values, and human rights violations have undermined its capability to take choices freely and rationally.
Its financial system is extremely depending on the US; the latter is the single largest market for Bangladeshi goods. Bangladesh can also be one of many largest recipients of U.S. help in Asia.
Then again, Bangladesh has a robust financial relationship with China. Beijing’s commerce, funding, and loans to Bangladesh are value round $60 billion – the largest ever pledged to Bangladesh by a single nation.
Its financial dependence on these nations limits Bangladesh’s capability to make choices independently.
Whereas the U.S. is utilizing the democracy follow get Bangladesh to toe its line, China and Russia have been providing unconditional assist, together with financial help to the AL authorities, and within the course of strengthening it.
Whereas the massive powers battle for affect, and with the federal government targeted on political survival, the wants of the frequent individuals are being ignored.