bangladesh at a crossroads geopolitics and diplomacy in southeast asia quad bri

Bangladesh at a Crossroads: The Diplomatic Tightrope In Geopolitics

The landscape of international politics is rapidly developing, and the strategic interests of two major superpowers, the US and China are becoming more visible with every new episode.

Both nations have been vying for influence and dominance in various regions across the globe, engaging in a range of economic, military, and diplomatic maneuvers to achieve their respective goals.

Southeast Asia has long been a crucially important region in world politics, but the recent developments have made South Asian geopolitics a theatre for superpower rivalries.

While the US and China will engage in a tug-of-war for regional supremacy, the south Asian states will become the pawn in this power struggle.

Most south Asian countries will need to navigate this delicate geopolitical situation with caution, seeking to maintain their autonomy and sovereignty while avoiding being pulled too strongly in one direction or the other.

And it’s not just the US and China who will be prying for dominance in this region, our neighbor India and Russia will also try to exert an influence.

The Diplomatic Three Way

While most Asian countries will juggle between the US and China, Bangladesh sees itself on a diplomatic tightrope trying to play a balancing act in order to deal with three major powers — India, China, and the US.

Even a few years ago, Bangladesh was not a topic of discourse in geopolitics; it was often overlooked by political pundits. However, in recent years, Bangladesh has emerged as a key player in regional and global politics.

With its growing economy, strategic location, and increasing geopolitical significance, Bangladesh has attracted the attention of strategic thinkers and is now the piece of the pie that every superpower is eyeing.

In the coming days, Bangladesh will have to face some serious challenges trying to maintain the status quo with China and the US. Of course, Bangladesh will also have to maintain a much-necessary relation with India, while also protecting its own national interest.

Even only a few years ago, the US often used to view Bangladesh through the prism of India, an influential player in the subcontinent’s geopolitics, and of its other neighbors. But with the changing equation between the largest two democracies and a see-saw diplomatic relation, the US will toss aside the “Indian prism” and look into this region with their own binocular more closely.

The Problems Within

Bangladesh was going through a turbulent time after the independence, with military coups and countercoups. Because of the political instability, rampant corruption, and a lack of democratic framework the economy of Bangladesh couldn’t gain momentum for accelerated growth. The power struggle between the military and the democratically chosen government threatened the economy with a state of uncertainty and unpredictability.

This tumultuous environment has not only discouraged foreign investors but also made local investors hesitant to make any long-term commitments, thus rendering the economy virtually stagnant, languishing in the doldrums.

However, a glimmer of hope emerged when the Awami League came to power, after the prolonged rule of the military caretaker government, and solidified its position in the parliament. They primarily focused on infrastructural development, which could lure more foreign investment, and implemented export-oriented policies. Awami League also facilitated migrant workers and focused on programs aimed at facilitating more foreign remittance inflows into Bangladesh.

As the saying goes, “The road to progress is never easy,” and Bangladesh is no exception. Despite the Awami League’s efforts to reinvigorate the country’s economy, Bangladesh is currently facing new challenges that threaten to derail its progress. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis and the post-Covid circumstances have dealt a severe blow to Bangladesh’s economy, plunging it into yet another crisis.

In addition to external factors, Bangladesh is also grappling with the age-old problem of corruption and money laundering. This scourge has plagued the country’s economy for years, sapping it of its vitality and stunting its growth potential. If left unchecked, corruption and money laundering will continue to undermine Bangladesh’s progress and prevent it from realizing its full potential.

Adding to the country’s woes, political tension both inside and outside the nation remains a significant obstacle to progress. The recent elections have created a great deal of controversy and anger from rival political groups, further exacerbating an already tense situation. The challenges facing Bangladesh are complex and multifaceted, requiring a comprehensive approach that takes into account both short-term and long-term solutions.

Alliance & Allegiance

Bangladesh always had a geographic and strategic importance in this region. But recently with the renewed interest and the ongoing power struggle in global politics, Bangladesh has caught the attention of the superpowers and now finds itself at the crossroads of geopolitics.

The global balance of power has been a belligerent topic for discussion, and the recent revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) by the Biden administration is a clear indication that the tides are shifting once again.

China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its aggressive expansion have been viewed with criticism by Western powers, who see it as a means for China to expand its territorial control and establish itself as the next superpower. Under the guise of providing economic assistance and infrastructure development, China has been accused of engaging in predatory lending practices that leave smaller nations mired in debt, ultimately resulting in China asserting its dominance over that nation.

While Quad’s objective, at least on paper, is to promote cooperation between member countries and work towards a free, open, prosperous, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. However, it is clear that the real intent behind the Quad’s formation is to counter China’s unchecked expansionism and safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of smaller nations.

In short, underplay Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

China’s also been playing a game of thrones with India in South Asia for a while now. Instead of swords and dragons, they’re using a more friendly and cooperative approach, providing economic assistance and infrastructure development projects to improve diplomatic ties with south Asian Countries. This is a calculated move to rein in India’s hegemony in the region and establish its own dominance and gain strategic advantage.

The Sino-Indian conflict has been going on for decades, but it’s not just about controlling the borders between India and China now, it has boiled up to politics of influence, domination and polarization.

The duality of China and India in establishing dominance in the South Asian region has sparked a new geopolitical dynamic, where other neighboring countries are also becoming part of the act in the power struggle. This new politics of alliances, rivalries, and tensions is seen as a veiled signal for a neo-cold war.

All three superpowers are busy forging strategic alliances by enticing smaller nations with economic, military, and infrastructural assistance; and it’s no longer discrete. While smaller nations are trying to balance between the superpowers with caution and are avoiding being drawn into a new Cold War, with the changing reality it’s becoming a bit of a challenge.

The superpowers are now becoming desperate to understand the exact position of each country in terms of foreign policy and where they stand in the absence of a non-Alignment platform.

The US, China and India are asserting their soft power on smaller states that have interdependence upon the superpowers. This “picking sides” situation is very delicate and has become difficult for a country like Bangladesh, that have interest with all 3 parties.

With three sides of its land border shared with India, Bangladesh has a longstanding bilateral relationship with its neighbor that extends far beyond the realm of trade, commerce, and economic ties. However, Bangladesh’s dependence on China for trade, commerce, and infrastructure development projects cannot be ignored. Like many other South Asian countries, Bangladesh’s imports heavily rely on China, while its largest export market lies in the West.

The geopolitical implications of these intertwined relationships cannot be overstated. It won’t be an exaggeration if we say Bangladesh is in a pickle. And this diplomatic pickle won’t be very pleasant to digest. Bangladesh will need to work out a foreign policy without jeopardizing the diplomatic ties with any of the development partner country.

Maneuvering The Trinity

China has played a key role with its unwavering focus on strengthening economic ties with South Asian countries, transforming a once estranged region into a hub of international trade and commerce.

Through years of dedicated effort, China has successfully bolstered its position in the region, supporting development financing and infrastructure projects, culminating in the much-hailed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This would not only improve the connectivity between the Asian and European countries but also boost trade and stimulate economic growth across Asia and beyond.

Even though China has garnered huge admiration from many, their development projects has also raised some security concerns and made the west paranoid.

However, China’s dominant position in Asia and its unchecked expansionism has also raised security concerns, creating a sense of paranoia in Western nations as they contemplate the far-reaching implications of China’s rise to power.

Written by Mustafizur Rahman

Mustafizur Rahman is a member of the Daccanomics editorial team.

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