Jack Of All Trades
Indo-Pacific Strategy and Bangladesh
Bangladesh with its foreign policy based on 'friendship to all and malice to none' has been thriving with its economic growth particularly over the last 10 years. During the period it has successfully attracted investments in different proportions from Chinese, United States, India and several European and Middle Eastern countries, which often rival each other in global politics and economy.
In fact Bangladesh was in the growth trajectory at least in the last nearly 20 years during which the country steadily increased its exports, particularly the ready-made garments and manpower. At the same time it boosted its agriculture and produced adequate food grains, cattle, fish, vegetables, etc accelerating the growth often punctuated by natural calamities, political unrest and lastly by the pandemic -driven lockdown.
Bangladesh, which was dubbed bottomless bread basket in the first few years of its independence, with its steady growth has recently sparked a furore specially in India after the publication of World Economic Outlook (WEO) by International Monetary Fund (IMF).
As per the WEO released on October 13 last, Bangladesh's per capita GDP in dollar terms is expected to grow by 4 per cent in 2020-21 to $1,888, overtaking India, whose per capita GDP is set to plunge by 10.5 per cent to $1,877 this fiscal year ending March 31, 2021. This will make India the third poorest country in South Asia with only Pakistan and Nepal behind.
However, IMF said India would grow smartly next year as data showed positive results which might satisfy the country's people. In 2021, India's per capita GDP is predicted to grow at 8.2 percent to $2,030, as against Bangladesh's expected growth of 5.4 per cent to $1,990. After the IMF outlook it seemed that a section of Indians were unable to believe that the giant India will remain $11 below the tiny Bangladesh in terms of per capita income even for a year or few months.
However, Bangladesh earlier surpassed India in several social, health, mortality, and fertility indices. According to the WEO, Bangladesh, Bhutan (with more than $3,300), Sri Lanka (more than $4,100) and Maldives (nearly $10,400) now have more per capita GDP than India. Two days later another report released on the World Food Day on October 16, the International Food Policy Research Institute, also put emerging Bangladesh ahead of the biggest country is South Asia, in its Global Hunger Index (GHI), puzzling a section of economic experts and political gurus in India. In the GHI, Sri Lanka is in the top of the list in South Asia while Afghanistan in the bottom. However, Bangladesh is lagging behind Nepal and India is ahead of its arch rival Pakistan.
The Indian mainstream media including leading television channels and wide circulated newspapers and social media which had been abuzz after the WEO of the IMF, were baffled browsing the GHI which ranked India 94th among 107 countries on the index that tracks undernourishment, child under nutrition and child mortality across the world. In the GHI for 2020, India ranks below neighbours Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal which are placed at 88th, 75th, and 73rd position respectively. Countries such as North Korea, Rwanda, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone are worse off than India
However, in terms foreign investment, China has so far surpassed every other countries winning deals to build several mega projects in Bangladesh, which wants to transform itself into developed nation by 2041 with the per capita income at $12,500. Before engaging Chinese firms, Bangladesh offered ample chances to India to grab the opportunities. However, due to the shortage of funds and the lack of capacities to take decision on times, it lagged behind China which came up with adequate funds and investment proposals to assist Bangladesh. Accordingly ambitious Bangladesh did not delay and grabbed the Chinese offers. Currently most mega infrastructural projects in Bangladesh are being implemented by Chinese companies, using Chinese loans.
However, there are some worries among Indian policy makers for being unable to satisfy Bangladesh's thirst for implementation of mega infrastructural projects, most of which are near to complete, mostly with the assistant of China. Meanwhile Bangladesh extended unprecedented cooperation to India over the last 10 years, when the former helped the latter routing Indian insurgents from Bangladesh and offering transit and transhipment facilities through its ports time to time.
Some officials among Indian authorities, who want to strengthen relations with Bangladesh, feel that they are yet to reciprocate Bangladesh's magnanimity, as India has so far not signed a deal to share water of Teesta River and order its Border Security Force not to kill Bangladeshi trespassers. On the other side, Bangladesh has been a cause of wrath among the section of the Indian ruling party, after Bangladesh allowed China for implementing its mega infrastructure projects over last few years, when India despite signing agreements failed deliver what Bangladesh needed utmost.
Some leaders of the Indian National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have also been annoyed as Bangladesh neither lent direct support to India nor condemned China for its recent aggression against India in Ladakh. However, during the India - China standoff, Bangladesh called for peace and de-escalation of military operations. Meanwhile India, which is dubbed a time tested friend of Bangladesh has tied up with the United States in a bid to influence Bangladesh not to swallow the Chinese bait, or to eject whatever it has conceived from world's second largest economic power house.
In view of the growing influence of China in the region, the US and its allies launched the Indo-Pacific Strategy, apparently to counter China's Belt and Rod Initiative (BRI). Bangladesh has already become a major partner of BRI under which it will get over US$25 billion for building infrastructure. Recently, the USA has unleashed a fresh diplomatic offensive to revamp its ties with the regional countries, which have become partners of the China-led BRI. With this in mission US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E Biegun visited Bangladesh from October 14 to 16, following a three-day tour to India. He met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, his Bangladesh Counterpart Shahriar Alam and Foreign Minister Abdul Momen.
It could not be confirmed whether Biegun raised the issues of Chinese assistance in Bangladesh, but he invited Bangladesh to join the US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy and be armed with sophisticated US weapons. Bangladesh underscored the need for economic cooperation for overall development of the region. It expressed its conviction that defence blocs often trigger military rivalry destroying economic achievements.
Biegun was told that Bangladesh was not willing to purchase arms under the proposed Indo Pacific Strategy, rather, the country wants American investments in the country's infrastructure. Bangladesh feels that the Indo Pacific Strategy will be effective for the country if it gets US investments in infrastructure building under it.
However, according to Bangladesh Prime Minister's office Biegun assured Bangladesh that his government will consider to return Rashed Chowhury, the convicted killer of Bangabandhu from the US, where he has been hiding. Bangladesh again urged the international community including the United States to help Bangladesh repatriate Rohingyas to the ancestral home in Rakhine, Myanmar. He commended Bangladesh's economic development under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and said the US wants to further strengthen cooperation with Bangladesh in the energy sector.
In near future the ongoing economic rivalry between US and China might take a new dimension which is likely to be more notorious than the raging Covid-19 in the Indo-Pacific region. So Bangladesh should be desperate in building its own security of self defence also based on its cardinal principle of the foreign diplomacy.
The writer is Business Editor,
The Daily Observer