Bangladesh Played as a Balancer between 'Robust Ties' and 'Strategic Ties' -The Asian Age

 Josim Uddin

After one year break due to the Corona pandemic, Bangladesh hosted the 8th US-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue on March 20, 2022. As the US delegate, the US undersecretary for political affairs Victoria Nuland, the third highest-ranking official in the U.S. State Department, visited Dhaka and joined the dialogue on March 19. On the other hand, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen led the Bangladesh delegation. Mainly those two delegates came together to enhance the 50 years of bilateral ties and make a "Robust relationship" between the US and Bangladesh. It is very remarkable that the US has very been concerned and kept Bangladesh in its strategic calculations today. Though, in the earlier period of bilateral ties, the US would not do so but rather deemed Bangladesh as an under developing country like Niger and calculated Bangladesh via humanitarian grounds.

However, the dialogue was held in two stages in the same venue, first, the US Under Secretary for political affairs Victoria Nuland and Foreign Secretary Masud Momen had tete-a-tete; Bangladesh raised the US sanctions against Bangladesh's elite force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) claiming it "Unjustification" and the US sought Bangladesh on its side in the context of Russia-Ukraine. After that, in the second stage, the main discussion of the dialogue was started for removing bilateral relations gaps.

We see the US, in the post 9/11 era, has followed the three vined 'D's policy namely D-Democracy, D-Development, and D-Denial of space to terrorism for not only Bangladesh but also Indo-Pacific Regions. So, for those, we witnessed the US sanction on Bangladesh's elite force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) for its genocidal violence. Moreover, we also found the US delegate who was repeatedly emphasizing the priorities of the Biden administration- its Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) in the discussions. So, the aftermath of her emphasis was that Bangladesh was convinced to sign the two defense deals, 1) General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), and 2) The Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA).

Besides, Bangladesh manifested its interest in joining the Biden administration's "Economic Component", Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) for developing economic criteria, strengthening maritime security, and countering climate change, terrorism, and regional crime. Does this mean that Bangladesh was on the way to joining QUAD? And what will happen if Bangladesh joins QUAD and what will happen if not so?

IfBangladesh joins:

We know QUAD is the anti-China military alliance. In 2017 the US disclosed this alliance along with India, Japan, and Australia. Its main purpose was to undermine the military dominance and the economic rise of China in South Asia (Indo-Pacific Regions). So, I thought based on Li Jiming's (Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh) speech, if Bangladesh joined QUAD, the Sino-Bangladesh relations would be hampered. Because Li Jiming said clearly "if Bangladesh goes along with the QUAD, China-Bangladesh relations will be suffered through military coups and economic stagnation."

So, if that came true, Bangladesh would lose a big economic partner. For your kind information, I'mdemonstrating that Bangladesh depends on China's supply of raw materials and accessories for its ready-made garments (RMG). Mainly Bangladesh business with China around 50% of total exports-imports. Moreover, China has provided Bangladesh with duty-free access to their markets, China has announced full-free scholarships for Bangladeshi students, and even China was on the side of Bangladesh when the whole world was covered with Corona vaccine diplomacy. At that time, China kept Bangladesh onits first priority list of vaccine apportion. Even after these, history testifies that Bangladesh never had a "Blood Ties" with China, what it had and still has a "Strategic Ties" that has been sustained by Bangladesh keeping itself distance from joining QUAD.
If not:

If Bangladesh doesn't join GUAD, there will be no strategic pressure from the US. Michael Kugelman, the deputy director and a senior associate for South Asia at the Washington-based think tank Wilson Centre, has cleared it in his interview that "the US doesn't expect Dhaka to join QUAD (The Daily Star, 2022)."

However, Bangladesh should increase its'Mutual Understanding' with America and be a trusted ally of the US by pursuingits policies and maintaining its soft demands. Because the US is the single largest export destination for ready-made garments (RMG), accounting for 83% of Bangladesh's total exports. Even the U.S. also was the largest source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to Bangladesh ($3.5 billion in cumulative investments as of 2019). So, for the two purposes, 1) Investment, and 2) the Rohingya Crisis, Bangladesh should maintain "Robust ties" with the US. And we glanced that Bangladesh had followed the strategy in the 8th US-Bangladesh partnership dialogue. Therefore, in the nutshell I want to acknowledge like Victoria Nuland, this dialogue is an "appetizer for the feast," implying more good things to come for Bangladesh. So, I think Bangladesh balanced between "Robust Ties" with the US and "Strategic Ties" with US arch-rival China.

Josim Uddin is a student, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka.