Bangladesh is at a Geopolitical Crossroads

Bangladehs India China

The regional geostrategic environment is getting tight and competitive. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Bangladesh is at a Geopolitical Crossroads now. Although relations between Bangladesh and China are primarily economic in nature, Bangladesh holds an important position in China’s geostrategic calculus regarding South Asia. Bangladesh is an integral part of Beijing’s One Belt One Road initiative, proposed BCIM corridor (it will facilitate the development of Yunnan province of China), and to maintain the balance of power in South Asia in China’s favor.

Whatever Dhaka’s immediate moves– in the long term, I think, China believes that ultimately Bangladesh will help China contain India. Unfortunately, there is a range of underlying factors which will contribute to this end. Currently, Bangladesh and India are enjoying warm, harmonious & very smooth relations at least at the governmental level. But in the long run, it will be difficult to maintain this warm and cozy relationship. If we follow realist logic, it’s common among small neighbors of a powerful country to balance against it, if there is a balancing coalition or country is available; otherwise, it will bandwagon. Geographical proximity makes things even worse because it is very easy for a powerful country to project power in its borders. Vulnerability & higher level of threat perception instill fear in the psyche of small countries bordering a large one. This kind of apprehension in small countries is known as anti-hegemonic feeling. If anyone observes carefully, he will notice that it is present in Bangladesh as well. Border killings, Water sharing problem, huge trade deficit, cultural aggression, non-tariff barriers created by India, the domineering attitude of New Delhi towards Dhaka are slowly sowing the seeds of distrusts among the people of Bangladesh. I have noticed another issue, that is, India is very concerned about relative gains when dealing with Bangladesh. India attempts to exploit Bangladesh in every single bilateral transaction, agreement & treaty.

Now, the balance of power in South Asia is in India’s favor, but in near future balance of power may shift towards the equilibrium. China is working overtime to make it a reality. China is a major development partner of Bangladesh and it is consistently investing in Bangladesh since the 1980s. China has increased its investment in Bangladesh for the last five years. China is also the main supplier of military hardware of Bangladesh Army.

China is also heavily investing in Pakistan, CPEC is one of those investment packages. If CPEC becomes successful, there is a possibility that Pakistan would recover in the future. China and Russia are also helping Pakistan in combating terrorism to make it a stable country. In the light of the transformed geostrategic environment, Russia has already recalibrated its policy towards Pakistan from negligence to economic and to some extent military engagement.

In china’s calculation, a triad of prosperous Bangladesh, Pakistan and China will contain the influence of India within Indian Subcontinent. China sees huge potential in Bangladesh in terms of economic & military dimensions, because we have a population of 170 million, notably a large productive young generation, rapidly growing economy combined with favorable geostrategic location.

Things to remember, Bangladesh should not take a side in any Sino-Indian rivalry, it’s not in Bangladesh’s interest to get involved in any geostrategic competition between India and China or China and USA. It is true, Bangladesh is at a Geopolitical Crossroads but we have to work hard to make a way out and disentangle ourselves from the regional rivalry. Bangladesh must follow a nonaligned position in this geopolitical great game of 21st century because great powers generally do not want to fight face to face most of the time; it’s not in their best interests & not a rational policy option, as it will destroy both of them. They would fight in their peripheries using proxies, although a limited war or low-intensity conflict is possible, more likely in the sea.

To increase its bargaining power and to get better economic packages, Bangladesh may sometimes wobble a little bit between India and China, but must not change its policy orientation from nonalignment.