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Bangladesh's growing Geo-strategic significance for India and China -The Asian Age


There is a common perception among many political analysts that the rapid development of sophisticated weapons (e.g., nuclear weapons) in the field of war has undermined the suitable relevancy of geostrategic importance of states in the modern age. 

But, the Geo-strategy as a subset of geopolitics still now demands a robust attention on the political, military and often economic domains of states.

It is true that Bangladesh became independent in 1971 through a bloody war. Moreover, it cannot be denied that the geostrategic significance of the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was one of the prime reasons for the involvement of two super power countries, the USA and the Soviet Union, in our liberation war. Their engagement took the world into almost the verge of another great war. 

Therefore, since the process of the country's emergence, her geostrategic significance has been playing a vital part of the strategic thinking of major global powers. 

Geographically, Bangladesh, a compact state, straddles between South and Southeast Asia. It has two neighboring states, India and Myanmar. However, the state envisages the Bay of Bengal as the third neighbor, which is one of the crucial wings of the Indian Ocean become highly potential for the emerging locus of Geo-economic and geopolitical spheres. 

To be a regional game changer, Bangladesh has the robustness to translate her range of potentials into realities. In this regard, her sharing of the world's fifth-longest land border with India and at the same time her geographic proximity with the economic giant China (The People's Republic of China or the PRC) can contribute her touring vision to be one of the Asian tigers. In addition, through the maritime victory against Myanmar in 2012 and against India in 2014, the country has alluringly reshaped her geopolitical landscape. 

For India, Bangladesh plays pivotal roles to enhance and facilitate the connection between mainland India and its Northeast Region. 

The transit issue to comfortably connect the economic sector and strengthen political legitimacy of India with its isolated part has been a thorny issue in Indo-Bangladesh political and economic relations for a long time (International Growth Center, 28 Aug 2014, Transit Arrangements for Indian Trade Through Bangladesh). 

In this regard, India is showing its solicitation to get the transit approval from Bangladesh. This is a geographical advantage of Bangladesh to bargain with India over many other issues like the unfair share of the Ganga River and Nepal-Bangladesh trade relations without India's barriers. 

In comparison, China is showing its soft corner to make warm relations with Bangladesh chiefly on the calculation of geopolitical intentions. Having one maritime route access for trade through the narrow Malacca Strait, the Chinese tensions remain sharply noticeable in the Indian Ocean because India's leverage can heavily encircle China if it faces any abrupt obstacles in the strait. Moreover, the maritime strategist Alfred Mahan predicted long ago, "Whoever controls the Indian Ocean will dominate Asia, the destiny of the world will be decided on its waters." This assumption is now getting apex priority to Chinese foreign policy makers.

As BD's third neighbor the Bay of Bengal is a vital wing of the Indian Ocean, China regards it as a strategic maritime realm to exert its dominance in the ocean. Like its investments in the ports of Myanmar, Pakistan, Maldives etc, the PRC has invested in the Chittagong seaport and Payra Deep-sea Port of Bangladesh. 

This geostrategic benefit of Bangladesh encourages China to be very flexible and friendly on the economic and strategic interests of Bangladesh. 

This Chinese stance raises its counterpart India's eyebrows since there is now a constructed notion among Indian political experts that Bangladesh may allow the PRC to use these ports for military aircraft.

Bangladesh is a vibrant market for China as well as India and in geographical perspective whoever seizes her big market in attractive fashion will have greater influence in the region. China and India are now investing huge money into Bangladesh. 

However, when trade issue rises Bangladesh shows more resentment to India than to China. The website of Bangladesh's Embassy in China shows that with China, the export of Bangladesh reached almost USD 1 billion in 2014, while at the same period her import was over USD 7 billion. 

Conversely, according to The Economic Times, Bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh stood at USD 6.6 billion in 2013-14 with Bangladesh's imports from India at USD 6.1 billion and exports of Bangladesh at USD 462 million .

In the OBOR initiative of China, Bangladesh has been an official part in 2016 of one of its six economic corridors. Through this project, Bangladesh can be an integrating corridor between semi-industrialized ASEAN states and the sub-continent. 

Sadly, though Bangladesh and India have strong cultural attachment, same colonial history and political beliefs, civilizational links, and economic ties, and though India was the key ally during Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, controversies between them presently rise in several issues where India tend to treat Bangladesh unfairly and obnoxiously. 

Hence, Considering the India's big brotherly posture, the present Bangladesh government has played its trump card in right time through giving vast space to China economically and strategically. 

In this aspect, it seems that Bangladesh has shifted its honeymoon period of relations from India towards China. For this reason, India's behavior should be friendlier to Bangladesh to preserve its good profile in the country. 

Professor Mearsheimer opines in his most-celebrated book, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, "Great powers, I argue, are always searching for opportunities to gain power over their rivals, with hegemony as their final goal."

Accordingly, China has initiated its so-called agenda string of pearls to balance and counter India's necklace of friends. Bangladesh country seems in gaining the position of Sino-Indo rivalry which is now considered the "Great Game between Great Powers". 

The present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already augmented the country's bargaining power through her dynamic leadership in securing the ultimate position and prestige of the country to the powerful states. The capital of the bargaining power of a small state definitely keeps it a crucial player in regional politics. Bangladesh is not out of this status. 

These fruits of Bangladesh from the Geo-strategic perspective with her two counterparts in India and China nicely compensate her drawbacks such as small sea frontage, tiny size of territory, climatic vulnerabilities and huge population. 

To sustain the bargaining capability of the state for its prosperity, the cultivation of BD's Geo- strategies have to be directed pragmatically and swimmingly so as none of them show much resentment.  


Shuva Das is an undergraduate student of International Relations at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science & Technology University.