The Bangladesh-China relationship is a historical one. During President Xi Jinping's visit to Dhaka, Dhaka-Beijing elevated the bilateral relationship to a "strategic partnership." China is the largest trading partner of Bangladesh that makes this bilateral relationship equally economic and strategic.
China is no longer a regional power; it is now a global power. It is natural, like any other country, it will do everything to protect its geostrategic and geopolitical interests, which serves its domestic economic and political needs. Hence, China will not be comfortable with military pacts or strategic unrests in its neighbourhood.
We must realise that the unfolding rivalry between the United States and China will have a significant impact on Bangladesh's economic stability.
Ambassador Li Jiming's statements are a reminder of rapidly evolving geostrategic equations across the region. Any strategic miscalculation will have detrimental implications for Beijing or Dhaka and Washington DC. These remarks aptly show that Dhaka has become a focal area in the unfolding geostrategic and geopolitical equations in the Indo-Pacific.
The US-India defence and nuclear ties will keep Beijing alarmed, and volatilities in India-Pakistan relations will affect its multi-billion dollar investment in CPEC. Indian domestic political rhetorics, the rise of ultra-right nationalism cashing in on China as a rival, and Indian overt military involvement in Myanmar are the key irritants for Beijing. These issues will make Beijing arm its borders with the South Asian countries.
The Quad, which can potentially be overshadowed by massive economic initiatives such as RCEP, in which two quad partners Australia and Japan are members, is still at its nuance stage. India remains the weakest economy in the Quad too. For now, I won't take the Quad as a serious alliance at all.
Bangladesh has clearly articulated its position, not in favour of the Quad. So far, Bangladesh is careful enough and willing to see the US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy as an economic alliance without defence infused motives. Bangladesh has correctly pitched for economic cooperation rather than defence alliance within the ambit of Indo-Pacific strategy.
Bangladesh's commitment to multilateralism and quest for infrastructure growth has aptly been reflected through its participation in the BRI. At present, we do not see any alternative arrangement to replace BRI in the making. After all, it is not the political narcissism that rules the world order; it's the market and economic realities that determine the growth of a country.
The ongoing covid crisis is a reminder that in the post-Covid world some aspiring powers will be relegated to vulnerable states. In that case, Bangladesh should also carefully calculate its bilateral relations with the regional countries. It has to be careful in balancing its relationship with the United States and China as these two countries are vital for Bangladesh's national interests.
I would say it is better to do some introspection than overtly focusing on the Chinese ambassador's views. The political community needs to find the sources of Beijing's views on Bangladesh and resolve these issues through diplomatic talks and firm assurances.
Nonetheless, the Chinese views are a clear testimony that Bangladesh has emerged as a significant geopolitical factor in the Bay of Bengal region. We should therefore focus on our national interests and our role as a geostrategic pivot.
The author is a professor of International Relations