3 major powers battling it out in Bangladesh


Bangladesh and the entire South Asia region have become a battleground for three great powers, making it increasingly challenging for Dhaka to continue to balance its relations with the three, said a US-based foreign policy expert.

The tussle between India and China intensified with the Ladakh border clash, while the US is increasing its engagement with South Asian countries to ensure that they do not become completely dependent on Beijing, said Michael Kugelman, South Asia Institute director at the Wilson Centre, a Washington-based think-tank.

Kugelman’s comment came at a seminar on Bangladesh’s Indo-Pacific Outlook organised by the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies yesterday.

He cited the case of the US-sanctioned Russian ship that was refused for offloading equipment for the Rooppur nuclear power plant in December last year after US objections, putting Bangladesh in a tricky spot.

Bangladesh has so far been making the balancing act, which was evident in its Indo-Pacific Outlook.

“But there could be tipping points that put Bangladesh’s balancing policy to test.”

Those are China’s invasion of Taiwan and Russia’s expansion of war to Poland, a NATO member.

“If one or both of these happens, Dhaka could come under unprecedented pressure from the US and its Western allies to take stronger positions against China and Russia,” Kugelman said, adding that the scenarios should not be discounted at all.

The Indo-Pacific region is the focus of global powers and so is Bangladesh because of its geographical location, said foreign policy analysts from home and abroad.

The Russia-Ukraine war has further intensified the global power competition.

Constructive regional and international cooperation is one of the guiding principles of Bangladesh’s ‘Indo-Pacific Outlook’, said Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen.

The country also stresses regional connectivity and always takes an active role towards this end.

“Through these, Bangladesh has worked as a bridge between South and Southeast Asia. Now Bangladesh is ready to expand its engagement with more members of the Indo-Pacific region.”

Momen went on to urge the regional countries to help resolve the Rohingya crisis for a stable Indo-Pacific.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said “militarisation in the sea lanes” is undesirable as Bangladesh believes in the foreign policy dictum “friendship to all and malice to none”.

Its only goal now is socioeconomic development, he added.

One should not ignore the importance of the middle and emerging powers of the region, said David Brewster, senior research fellow at the National Security College, Australian National University.

Such countries including Australia, Japan, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh can strengthen partnerships and help prevent any militarisation of the region.

Bangladesh and India over the last decade have been a great success in cooperation and collaboration, and should bolster efforts to offset any negative implications of the great power competition, said MJ Akbar, India’s former state minister for external affairs.

Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen; Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, former foreign secretary; Ahmad Tariq Karim, director of the Centre for Bay of Bengal Studies; Pankaj Saran, former Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh, among others spoke at the three-session event.


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