Bangladesh and QUAD: Demystifying myth and reality
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, simply known as Quad, is an informal group offour democracies, Australia, Japan, India, and America to coordinate in the Indo-Pacific region over the issues related to connectivity and development, regional security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and maritimecooperation. It was first envisioned by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe back in 2007. The common grounds in this informal association are to establish a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific and unhindered maritime trade and security in this region.
The Quad has been dormant for last few years but revived recently in 2017.It did not see any success due to Trump's erratic diplomatic skills. However, under Biden's presidency, diplomatic relations improved and Quad saw some revival efforts. From 2017 till 2019 the leaders met five times and in March 2020 they met along with representatives from New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam. The latter meeting came to be known as Quad Plus. The group again met virtually in March 2021.
At their virtual summit, the leaders pledged to establish a vaccine expert working group to expand access to Covid inoculations across Asia. But their statement promising a "free, open, inclusive, and resilient Indo-Pacific" also signals an intent to act on an array of pressing global challenges. That includes issues like climate change and counterterrorism as well as specific areasfor instance, quality infrastructure investment -- a likely reply to Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). That campaign has helped build roads and power stations across Asia and Africa but has been the subject of severe criticisms, including claims that China is alluring poor countries intovicious cycle of debt traps.The Quad leaders time and again asserted that it is not a military alliance to counter China, the actions, however,prescribe otherwise as observers argued that it aimed to draw fences against Chinese strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
Quad, Bangladesh, and Chinese Concerns: Recent Developments
China recently warned that Dhaka's participation in the anti-Beijing club would result in substantial damage to the bilateral relations. The warning came from Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh, Mr. Li Jiming weeks after Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe visited Bangladesh on 27 April 2021 to advance bilateral military cooperation. However, despite the warm relations in security areas recently, the remark from Li Jiming took the Bangladeshi state apparatus, academia, social media, and media-outlets by surprise.
Terming Quad as a narrow-purposed geopolitical alliance,Mr. Jimming said "�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�", in a meeting arranged by the Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh on 10 May 2021.
It triggered strong public reactions from government officials and netizenshome and abroad and attracted the attention of global media outlets as well.The US has taken note of the Chinese Ambassador's warning. US State Department Spokesperson noted "We have taken note of that statement from the PRC ambassador to Bangladesh. What we would say is that we respect Bangladesh's sovereignty and we respect Bangladesh's rights to make foreign policy decisions for itself". In a reaction, Bangladesh government even asked the foreign envoys stationed in Dhaka "to maintain decency and decorum". Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen reacted "as a sovereign country, Bangladesh will determine the course of its foreign policy in the interest of its people�We're an independent and sovereign state. We decide our foreign policy".It is evident thatBangladesh maintained a pragmatic, non-aligned and balanced foreign policy standpoint.
Is this fear of Bangladesh's joining Quad credible?
The fear of Bangladesh joining the Quad is ungrounded.If we look at some of the key data that exemplify the strategic profiles of Bangladesh, China, and Quad members through a comparative lens it becomes much clearer. The following table shows few key parameters which tells us the relative distribution of strategic capabilities of Bangladesh, China, and the Quad members:
Bangladesh is clearly a no match compared to the relative position and strategic influence of China and the Quad members. Hence, the fear of Bangladesh joining the Quad is minuscule compared to the comments and concerns raised by the Chinese ambassador in Bangladesh. This is to be noted that China is the only county with whom Bangladesh signed a defense cooperation agreement. About 75% of total arms import in Bangladesh is supplied by China from 2010 to 2019. Of total Chinese global arms export, Bangladesh accounts about 20% from 2015 to 2019. Chinese fear of Bangladesh joining a security alliance to counter China seems quite impractical due to this heavy reliance.
This is also to be noted that the Quad members are currently not seeking to expand the membership to other nations. Bangladesh has not been even invited ever by any of the Quad members to join in this informal alliance. It is true that the Bay of Bengal recently resurfaced in the strategic monitor of the global powers for its unique location and potentials. Bangladesh is a key piece to this puzzle. Bangladesh has been a member of IORA, andthe US wants it to join Free and Open Indo- Pacific Strategy (FOIP). Bangladesh has been cautious to join any military alliance and has been maneuvering delicately between these two.
Apart from this. Bangladesh is also receiving about $ 6 billion from Japan under the Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt for industrial and infrastructural development. Bangladesh has been playing a crucial role in fostering regional connectivity and subregional cooperation in South Asia.
Bangladesh does not endorse wars, conflict to resolve bilateral differences as its foreign policy dictates. There are several recent instances that Bangladesh went to resolve the bilateral land and maritime border delimitation differences through international legal regimes.
Despite the recent hype, the Quad has been struggling to come up with a unified and practical solution to counter China in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. There are too many variables at play which are to be taken seriously and the ground realities, as the example of the rare earth minerals illustrated, suggest that time and resources are working not in favor of the Quad members. The members have diversified interests, differences in their capabilities, and most interestingly heavily relied on China, for their economic and other wellbeing, the same actor they are intending to counter. The members have different voices, and the Quad has been more of a platform for expressing their political rhetoric, making it mere a talk-shop. There is no question of Bangladesh being considered by any power as linked with Quad except maintaining diplomatic relations with regional and great.
The writer is a professor,
Department of International
Relations, University of Dhaka