Monday, June 17, 2024
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Bangladesh needs both the US and China

By Mehjabin Bhanu

Bangladesh needs both the US and China. Now, Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal get attention from world powers. US, UK, China, India and Japan have focused their attention on South Asia, Bangladesh and ‘Bay of Bengal’. US has shifted its policy from ‘Asia Pacific’ towards ‘Indo Pacific’ to counter China’s ‘BRI’. Both parties want Bangladesh into their respective blocks.

Bangladesh’s policies are not towards bipartisan international politics. Bangladesh was an active member of the ‘Non-Aligned Movement’. Bangladesh has no intention and interest to join any bloc. But Bangladesh has the intention to be benefitted from the blocs. Bangladesh wants and believes in peaceful coexistence in the region. It always avoids any kind of clash with any actor. Despite having provocation from Myanmar during the Rohingya refugee crisis in 2017, it abstained from using any kind of force. Bangladesh knows the Strategy. Bangladesh is balancing successfully with ‘BRI’ and ‘IPS’. Whether Bangladesh is involved in the US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) or the Chinese-led Belt and Road (BRI), it must maintain peace and the rule of law in the region to reap the maximum economic benefits from these.

Bangladesh still believes in the ‘relevance’ of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), state minister for foreign affairs Md Shahriar Alam said at the summit in Venezuela in 2016. NAM was set up during the Cold War era as an association of countries that did not wish to take sides with either the US or the Soviet Union. Bangladesh wasn’t to take sides either the US or the Soviet Union. But after the demise of the USSR, the present US-China rivalry remembers the past. The participation of Bangladesh in the 18th summit of the multilateral forum Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) held in Baku of Azerbaijan in 2019 further strengthened the country’s position in the international arena. Bangladesh’s position in the international arena is neutral.

In this regard, Bangladesh is handling this issue tactically. It avoids its involvement with the blocs directly. Having request from the US for years, Bangladesh didn’t show any interest to sign the ACSA (Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement) and GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement) agreement with the US. On the other hand, When the Chinese Envoy to Bangladesh commented that Bangladesh shouldn’t join IPS last year, Bangladesh strongly protested against the remarks uttered by the Chinese envoy saying Bangladesh is capable to form its own national policy.

Bangladesh wants and believes in peaceful coexistence in the region. Whether Bangladeshis are involved in the US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) or the Chinese-led Belt and Road (BRI), it must maintain peace and the rule of law in the maritime region to reap the maximum economic benefits.

But US may target Bangladesh because Bangladesh is an active partner of the Chinese BRI project. Recent sanctions on Bangladesh RAB are the clear-cut example to understand it. But the US should understand that Bangladesh is also with the US.

The US is the main export destination of Bangladeshi garments. Bangladesh also believes in the US’s ‘Free and open Indo pacific strategy. Bangladesh needs both the US and China simultaneously for its development process. It is pertinent to mention that Bangladesh wants to be a welfare state in South

Asia. Its economic success is now praiseworthy. Thus, it needs both the US, China, EU for ensuring the pace of rapid economic growth. The US shouldn’t be worried about Bangladesh. Bangladesh strongly believes in friendship with all.

According to the various open sources, Bangladesh is America’s main ally in South Asia. The two countries have extensive cooperation in regional and global security, counter-terrorism and climate change. Bangladesh is an important participant in the Obama administration’s major international development initiatives, including food security, healthcare and the environment. In 2012, a strategic dialogue agreement was signed between the two countries. In 2015, US ambassador to Bangladesh Marcia Bernikat described the relationship as “vibrant, multifaceted and essential”. As of 2016, Bangladesh is the largest recipient of US assistance in Asia outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US-Bangladesh relationship is strengthened by the Bangladeshi American community. Fazlur Rahman Khan designed the United States’s tallest tower in Chicago.

According to the data of the US State Department and US Embassy to Bangladesh, the United States is the largest export market in Bangladesh. The United States is one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment in Bangladesh. The largest American investment in the country is Chevron, which produces 50 percent of Bangladesh’s natural gas. Bilateral trade in 2014 was US $ 6 billion. The major US exports to Bangladesh are agricultural products (soybean, cotton, wheat, dairy products), aircraft, machinery, engines and iron and steel products. American imports from Bangladesh include clothing, footwear and textile products; Toys, games and sporting goods; Shrimp and shrimp; And agricultural products. There are many Bangladeshi students in US universities.

The United States has assisted Bangladesh during cyclone relief operations in 1991 and 2007 In 2017, US direct investment in Bangladesh was $460 million, an increase of 0.4 percent from 2016. Bangladesh’s exports to the US were valued at $9.4 billion between January and October last year. Bangladesh and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, ASEAN Regional Forum, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization. According to the media reports, the American government also donated $218 million as Covid-19 donations alongside 28 million vaccines. In addition, a US company has signed an agreement with Bangladesh to install the undersea submarine cable at a cost of $700 million to $1 billion by 2023 that will connect France via Singapore.

On the other hand, though China and Bangladesh shared an adversarial relationship during the latter’s independence movement and immediately after that, the relationship has undergone a tremendous transformation to the extent that China is now considered by many in Bangladesh as an ‘all-weather friend’. They established diplomatic ties in 1976; it was defence ties that was an important area of their relationship, which led to further expansion of ties.

China, the largest economy in Asia, has decided recently to grant duty-free access to 98 percent of Bangladeshi products through the inclusion of 383 new products, especially leather and leather goods, in the zero-treatment list.

According to media reports, over the past 46 years, the relationship between China and Bangladesh has been developing, with mutual cooperation and friendship on both sides. In the international arena, Bangladesh has, to the best of its capacity, maintained unwavering support for the “One China Policy” and China’s peaceful rise.

According to data of various media outlets, from January to July 2021, the overall import and export volume of China and Bangladesh was $13 billion, a rise of 58.9 percent year on year. China has become Bangladesh’s largest trading partner, and Bangladesh is China’s third-largest trading partner and third-largest engineering contracting market in South Asia. Although there is a trade deficit between the two trade ties, China should consider this. Bangladesh is an important participant in China’s Belt and Road Initiative and one of the first countries to respond to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Although bilateral trade favours China heavily, Bangladesh has enormous potential in the Chinese markets. Affected by the favorable policy of the official entry into force of the zero-tariff treatment of 98 percent of Bangladesh’s tariff items exported to China, Bangladesh’s exports to China may show growth in 2022.

On October 14, 2016, Chinese president Xi Jinping arrived in Bangladesh on a historic visit. During that visit, China announced huge investments in various sectors of Bangladesh. The implementation of those investment projects is now in full swing. Among the ongoing projects are the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project, Karnafuli Tunnel, Dhaka-Chittagong Highway Four Lane Upgradation, Payra Port Development, Chittagong-Cox’s Bazar Railway Project, Power Grid Network Strengthening Project, Dhaka-Ashulia Elevated Expressway, Dhaka-Sylhet Four Lane Highway etc.

During the Corona period, China showed that the ‘friend of danger is the real friend’. During the COVID-19 pandemic, China has shown that the ‘friend in need is a friend indeed, and at this time, China has bound Bangladesh with the belief that ‘the boats of love sails mountain’. The country once again extended a helping hand to Bangladesh when vaccination diplomacy was in dire straits to get the coronavirus vaccine. China has given 1.2 million vaccines to Bangladesh in two phases as a gift and has assured that the country will supply tens of millions of vaccines to Bangladesh step by step commercially.

It is expected that China will soon start vaccination production in a joint venture with Bangladesh in addition to supplying vaccines. The two countries are also discussing this. Lee Jimming, the country’s ambassador to Dhaka, said that the friend of danger is the real friend. Bangladesh will remember this friendship with China. The Bangladesh Army has been equipped with Chinese tanks, its navy has Chinese frigates and missile boats and the Bangladesh Air Force flies Chinese fighter jets. In 2002, China and Bangladesh signed a “Defence Cooperation Agreement” which covers military training and defence production.

In the line with the above-mentioned discussions, we can say that Bangladesh needs both China and US. Despite having various challenges, Bangladesh is going to be a South Asian economic miracle and a welfare state in South Asia. Thus, it is the moral responsibility of both China and the US to cooperate with Bangladesh. Bangladesh wants to coexist with all actors in the regions. The rise of Bangladesh in South Asia is very peaceful. It believes in perpetual peace. Of course, to achieve the ultimate goal, Bangladesh needs both US and China.

Mehjabin Bhanu is a resident of Rajshahi City Corporation in Bangladesh. She holds Honours and Masters Degrees in Political Science from the University of Rajshahi.



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