Bangladesh walks a tight rope

Published : 28 Aug 2023 08:54 PM

There was a time when the sovereignty of one’s country over their neighbors was ensured by the strength of enforcing your stones and bones, then came the era of swords and arrows, followed by guns and bombs. Gone are those days; now the strength of one’s nation is defined by the brand of politics and the economic growth it has attained. Bangladesh found one Sheikh Hasina who is a role model to the world for development and success.  Despite Bangladesh being driven by the iron lady Sheikh Hasina, it is now finding itself in the middle of the web which demands for maintaining its diplomatic relationship ensuring a sharp balance in the Indo-pacific region. 

A recent study by Asian Confluence concluded that Northeast India and Bangladesh should increase their multimodal connectivity to boost the region's competitiveness and close development gaps. The report recommended that both organizations cooperate to facilitate trade and create express routes for the transshipment and transit of commodities from the Northeast Region to Chattogram Port. These efforts should be undertaken concurrently. 

Following this, India, Bangladesh and Japan have decided to explore the possibility of a trilateral partnership to unlock the potential of the landlocked northeast through Chittagong Port and the Tokyo-funded deep seaport in Bangladesh's Matarbari. 

The Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh Iwama Kiminori said that preparations are underway for the next phase of discussions concerning enhanced connectivity between India, Bangladesh, and Japan.

"This trilateral interaction, spearheaded by India, marks a significant step forward in bolstering regional ties and exploring avenues for increased connectivity in the border areas and northeastern region of India," said Ambassador Iwama Kiminori.  Many are seeing this partnership aiming to leverage Bangladesh's strategic geographical location to foster collaboration in investment, market development, and, crucially, improved connectivity.  The growing economy of India and Japan's substantial capital surplus are expected to play pivotal roles in driving this endeavor forward.

The Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh, Yao Wen, also made a remark recently that the Global Development Initiative (GDI), a twin sister of BRI, is aimed at supporting the timely achievement of all 17 goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by revitalizing global development partnership and promoting stronger, greener and healthier global development. 

A recent study by Asian Confluence

 concluded that Northeast India and

 Bangladesh should increase their

 multimodal connectivity to boost 

the region's competitiveness and 

close development gaps

“We hope that Bangladesh would make good use of China’s aid, preferential loans, and the Global Development and South-South Cooperation Fund to actively carry out policy dialogue, experience sharing, capacity building and practical cooperation,” the envoy said, media report suggests.   Moreover, the Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward GDI at the United Nations in 2021. The Global Development Initiative promotes international cooperation in eight priority areas, namely poverty alleviation, food security, pandemic response and vaccines, financing for development, climate change and green development, industrialization, digital economy, and connectivity in the digital era, said the ambassador. “All these are also the focus of Bangladesh in its Vision 2041 perspective plan,” he said.

All these efforts indicate a message that these countries are trying to establish their prominence on Bangladesh while also trying to get a powerful grip over South Asia. 

However,  the question that has been posed by analysts that what could be the motive of Japan in doing all these. U.S. administration has been engaged in "aggressively pushing”  the Indo-Pacific gambit to counteract China's BRI, of which Bangladesh has been a part since 2016 as Joe Biden’s administration in US is not accommodative of Chinese growing influence in this region. Interesting to know but experts are of the view that Japan might have been trying to come forward to form real bloc against China in this region.  They think that the countries in this region and the U.S. might have realized Sheikh Hasina is inevitable for Bangladesh and Sheikh Hasina cannot be brought under fold easily. However, these measures may be seen as an attempt to tactfully keep Sheikh Hasina and her Bangladesh within their effort through implementing development projects. 

It is evident that “Bangladesh -India- Japan” is coming into fore. Bangladesh can attract foreign investment and development resources which puts Bangladesh in both risky and privileged position. It is said that if there is a war in the Indo-pacific region, the main target would be China and the epicenter of war would be Bangladesh and its water territory. May be that’s why the rival groups are so active in fulfilling their agenda. 

In this situation, there is only one pragmatic strategy for Dhaka: playing a balancing game among the Asian giants. 

However, this is a very delicate game to play. A failure to maintain balanced ties with these rival groups  may result in an adversarial relationship with one or the other, similar to the classic international relations concept of strategic triangles. 

Thus, the success of Bangladesh’s foreign policy in the decade ahead will depend on how adroitly, and for how long, Bangladesh can continue walking this tightrope maintaining diplomatic relationship with the countries engaged in Indo pacific 


Tasmiah Ahmed is a Diplomatic Correspondent of Bangladesh Post

Stationed at Johannesburg