Bangladesh’s government has asked foreign envoys in Dhaka “to maintain decency and decorum” after public remarks from China’s Ambassador to the country provoked a sharp response.
The strongly-worded statement from Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry followed remarks by China’s envoy in Dhaka, Li Jiming, who warned Bangladesh to not consider joining the Quad grouping and said doing so would “damage” relations.
While the informal India-Australia-United States-Japan framework has no plans as yet to expand, Mr. Li’s remarks were seen as an advance warning and followed similar recent comments by China’s Defence Minister, General Wei Fenghe, who on visits to Colombo and Dhaka last month urged countries in South Asia to not join any military alliances. Some Chinese officials have described the Quad as an “Asian NATO” and as a military alliance, a label that its members have rejected.
"Obviously it will not be a good idea for Bangladesh to participate in this small club of four because it will substantially damage our bilateral relationship,” Mr. Li said at a meeting organised by the Diplomatic Correspondents Association on Monday, the Press Trust of India reported from Dhaka.
The comment brought a sharp response from the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry, which said in a statement that Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told reporters "as a sovereign country, Bangladesh will determine the course of its foreign policy in the interest of its people” and "urged foreign envoys in Dhaka to maintain decency and decorum while speaking in public."
"We're an independent and sovereign state. We decide our foreign policy. But yes, any country can uphold its position,” Mr. Momen was quoted as telling the media.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing she “had not seen any reports from our Embassy in Bangladesh” on the issue. "So about the protest from the Bangladesh Foreign Minister , I’m not sure what exactly the protest is and what the accurate words are. But we always treat other countries despite their size as equals. We always follow the peaceful coexistence principle in developing bilateral relations and we always support each other,” she said.
“About the Chinese Ambassador’s remarks on the Quad we have made our position clear on this issue,” she said. "We believe it is an exclusive clique against China and trying to rally countries around China to work against China. So I believe you understand our position very clearly.” "It is not China who has been interfering in other's internal affairs,” Ms. Hua added. "We follow the principle of non-interference in other's internal affairs. India knows better than us about the Quad, what’s the true intention of the Quad, is it trying to exclude China, or to target against China. If so, then it is not about interference, it is about expressing opposition to this Quad group and expressing the hope it will stop doing so."
Beyond the spat over the remarks, Bangladesh and China have been deepening cooperation including on COVID-19. China invited Bangladesh, along with Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to a Foreign Minister-level virtual dialogue last month, the fourth such meeting organised with South Asian countries to discuss COVID-19 cooperation, and offered Chinese vaccines and a plan to set up an emergency reserve for supplies for South Asian countries. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at the dialogue India had also been invited to the forum, but did not attend.
A day after the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry’s statement on the Chinese envoy’s remarks, it expressed its thanks to China for “gifting 500,000 vaccines” and said a “regular supply of Chinese vaccines to Bangladesh is underway”, as the ministry shared a photo of Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister receiving a package of Sinopharm vaccines from Mr. Li.