Wooing Bangladesh to Quad against China not to help Bangladesh devt
Published: May 11, 2021 08:40 PM
The Chinese-built Padma Bridge Project is Bangladesh's largest bridge project. Photo: Xinhua

The Chinese-built Padma Bridge Project is Bangladesh's largest bridge project. Photo: Xinhua

Member countries of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), an informal security grouping of the US, Japan, Australia and India, are now seeking to seduce Bangladesh to be part of their Indo-Pacific efforts, according to media reports. Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming said on Monday that China-Bangladesh bilateral ties would be substantially damaged if Dhaka engaged with Quad, according to a report of The Times of India. 

As a response, Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Moment told local English daily Dhaka Post that, "None of us were invited to the Quad, nor did we show interest." If what he said is the fact, this will be good. But given that some media outlets, including local ones, had covered Li's remarks, the news that Bangladesh had been invited to join the Quad was possibly not be groundless. Bangladesh either had talked with Quad members over this issue, or aim to launch a trial balloon to see China's reaction. 

The US' Indo-Pacific Strategy does not only rope in Japan, India and Australia. It also intends to woo other countries, including ASEAN members, and South Asian countries such as Nepal and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh could also be among the targets. Since Beijing and Dhaka established bilateral relations, their friendly relations and cooperation have been growing smoothly. China's assistance and investment to Bangladesh has played a vital role in the latter's remarkable economic growth. But some Western media outlets have driven a wedge between the two countries. They groundlessly hyped that Bangladesh had fallen into China's trap.

As an important partner of China, Bangladesh signed up to the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and is a member of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. One of the crucial aims of both US' and India's Indo-Pacific visions is to counter the BRI with a bid to contain China's development. Roping in Bangladesh can help them achieve this goal.

India has accused China of expanding influence in Bangladesh. India sees Bangladesh as an important country in China's so-called string of pearls strategy, which poses a threat to India. As a matter of fact, cooperation between China and Bangladesh focuses on economic fields, not geopolitical considerations. China does not intend to bring Bangladesh into its "sphere of influence."

Another Quad member, Japan, is engaged in many areas of cooperation with Bangladesh as well. For one, Bangladesh's market is appealing to Japan. Despite its small size, Bangladesh has a population of more than 160 million. For another, out of geopolitical considerations, Tokyo hopes to counter the BRI. Japan has proposed the Partnership for Quality Infrastructure, and attempted to sign infrastructure deals with Bangladesh. Tokyo, together with New Delhi and Washington, are really the ones behind the scenes that instigated Dhaka to call off the Sonadia deep-sea port project that was constructed by China and turn to cooperate with Japan on another similar program, reported The Times of India in 2016.

The Quad is a military grouping that obviously targets China. Although it has four members to fit into the notion of multilateralism, it is actually exclusive. True multilateralism respects the international system, and salutes the global order with the UN at the core, rather than the US-centered system and order. If Bangladesh joins the Quad, it will be placed in a subordinate position and then become a tool that will be taken advantage of by India, the US and others.

Bangladesh strikes a good balance between major powers. It actively cooperates with China on economics. At the same time, Dhaka hopes such cooperation will thus bring more countries to invest in Bangladesh. But it also hopes a competition over it remains at the economic level instead of at the political level. If the country falls into the geopolitical trap of the Quad, its economic prospects will accordingly be at risk.

If the Quad really wants to bring Bangladesh in, then Dhaka has to weigh the damage the joining would cause to its economic development and national security.

The author is secretary-general of the Research Center for China-South Asia Cooperation at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, visiting fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China, and distinguished fellow of the China (Kunming) South Asia & Southeast Asia Institute. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn