Bangladesh, a rapidly developing South Asian country, is at a crossroads in terms of geostrategic positioning. The country faces a complex web of opportunities and challenges as it seeks to balance its relationships with the West, led by the United States, a cautious India, and its infrastructure development partner, China. This article investigates the feasibility of Bangladesh striking a delicate balance between these major players, as well as the potential consequences for the country’s future growth and stability.
Balancing the West and a Cautious India
Bangladesh’s strategic importance in the Indian Ocean region has piqued the West’s interest. Because of its geographical location, which connects South Asia and Southeast Asia, the country is an important player in regional connectivity initiatives such as the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS). The IPS, which is led by the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, seeks to promote a free, open, and inclusive regional order with a focus on improving connectivity, maritime security, and economic growth.
Bangladesh has made efforts to engage with the IPS, including participation in regional forums and dialogues as well as soliciting investment from these countries. Japan, for example, has been an important development partner, investing in infrastructure projects such as the Matarbari deep-sea port and assisting in the construction of the Dhaka Metro Rail. South Korea and Australia, on the other hand, have contributed to Bangladesh’s development through trade, investment, and development assistance.
As a regional power and Bangladesh’s immediate neighbor, India is an important factor in the country’s strategic calculations. Bangladesh and India have deep historical, cultural, and economic ties, and both countries have worked hard to strengthen their bilateral relationship. However, India’s cautious approach to China’s growing regional influence has implications for Bangladesh’s balancing act.
Navigating the China Factor
Through its Belt and Road Initiative, China has emerged as a key player in Bangladesh’s development (BRI). The BRI seeks to improve regional connectivity and economic cooperation, and Bangladesh has benefited greatly from Chinese investment in infrastructure projects such as the Padma Bridge, Karnaphuli River Tunnel and the Payra deep-sea port. Furthermore, China has emerged as Bangladesh’s most important trading partner and source of military hardware.
However, the West and India are concerned about China’s growing presence in Bangladesh. They are concerned that increased reliance on Chinese investment and strategic assets will undermine regional power balances and jeopardize their strategic interests. As a result, Bangladesh must navigate its relationship with China while also maintaining strong ties with the West and India.
Striking a Delicate Balance: Opportunities and Challenges
Bangladesh must be pragmatic and non-aligned in order to strike a balance between these powers. This entails interacting with all major stakeholders while focusing on its own national interests. Here are some approaches to striking this balance:
1. Partnership Diversification:
Bangladesh should continue to diversify its economic and strategic partnerships, engaging with both Western countries and regional powers such as India and China. A holistic and comprehensive approach to support sustainable, resilient, and inclusive growth will help reduce Bangladesh’s reliance on a single partner and allow it to use its strategic position to its advantage.
2. Fostering Regional Cooperation:
Through platforms such as BIMSTEC and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Bangladesh can take a proactive role in fostering regional cooperation. These organizations aim to enhance South Asian cooperation and have had some success in overcoming hurdles to regional collaboration. This will not only improve the country’s regional standing but will also help to promote shared prosperity and stability.
3. Prioritizing Economic Development:
Bangladesh has been successful in reducing poverty and achieving a high GDP growth rate. To continue this success, Bangladesh must prioritize economic development by ensuring that foreign investments are aligned with domestic needs and long-term goals. This includes addressing debt sustainability concerns and ensuring that projects are transparent and environmentally sustainable.
4. Strengthening Domestic Institutions:
In order to effectively navigate the complex geopolitical landscape, Bangladesh requires strong domestic institutions capable of making informed decisions in the best interests of the country. This includes promoting transparency, accountability, and good governance. Good governance is characterized by accountability, efficiency and effectiveness, equity, consensus orientation, responsiveness, transparency, rule of law, and participation.
5. Maintaining Strategic Autonomy:
Bangladesh’s physical survival as an independent sovereign state is a primary national interest. Bangladesh must maintain strategic autonomy while engaging with various powers in order to preserve and defend its hard-won independence. Avoiding alliances that may jeopardize its sovereignty or limit its ability to make independent decisions is part of this.
Bangladesh’s ability to strike a balance between the West, India, and China will be determined in large part by its ability to navigate the complex geopolitical landscape with pragmatism and foresight. Bangladesh can successfully leverage its position for its own benefit while contributing to regional stability and prosperity by diversifying partnerships, promoting regional cooperation, prioritizing economic development, strengthening domestic institutions, and maintaining strategic autonomy.