Dhaka seeks balance of strategic ties

October 17, 2016 02:42 am | Updated December 01, 2016 06:20 pm IST - DHAKA:

Chinese President Xi Jinping with BangladeshiPrime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka last week.

Chinese President Xi Jinping with BangladeshiPrime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka last week.

Developments like government-to-government deals worth $24.45 billion and private investment worth $13.6 billion, during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s milestone visit to Dhaka, upgraded the Bangladesh-China relationship to a ‘strategic partnership’.

However, it has also prompted a debate here on a possible tilt in balance vis-a- vis Dhaka’s relations with New Delhi, which is at a all time high under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Commercial interests

Many experts, including key government leaders, see the growing Dhaka-Beijing relations as “purely commercial and economic”. However, the others feel the need for a “crucial balance” under the new reality. Dhaka has categorically said that Mr. Xi’s visit would not have any negative impact on its relations with other countries, including India.

The ruling Awami League feels Bangladesh needs both China and India to take forward its aspirations for economic development. Party general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam emphasised the balance in the country’s foreign policy.

“We are working with China, but we are also working with India at the same time,” Mr. Islam, also the Public Administration Minister, said.

Billion-dollar investments

“China, in recent years, has been trying to expand its sphere of influence in Asia,” said Prof Ali Riaz, an U.S.-based Bangladeshi-American expert. After Mr. Xi’s milestone Oct. 14-15 visit to Dhaka, he explained, “It’s a clear indication that China would like to enhance its relationship with South Asian countries beyond Pakistan which is its long-time ally.”

A Chinese foreign affairs expert recently explained Bangladesh’s growing relations with China would have no negative impact on Bangladesh-India ties as Beijing was also looking for stronger relations with India. “There’s no such factor at all. We’ve strong relations with Bangladesh, and now we’re also trying to build better and stronger relations with India,” said Dr. Li Li, Associate Research Fellow of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR).

Security affairs analyst Major-General Abdur Rashid (retd.) feels: “None but China came forward with the billion-dollar economic support. We must not [mix up] this strategic relation[ship] with security and geopolitics because China is investing and giving financial support for our infrastructure, power and energy, information and communication technology, investment and blue economy.” He, however, suggested that Bangladesh must be careful and maintain a balance among the powerhouses and players in the region so that none feel aggrieved.

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