A step forward in US - Bangladesh strategic partnership
The US Deputy Secretary of State, Stephen E Biegun has arrived in Dhaka yesterday to gear up bilateral ties with Bangladesh, aiming to advance its Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS). The primary objective of this initiative is, apparently, to counterbalance China's growing influence in the region. From the US side there are two particular agendas: IPS and defence talks. Additionally, the visit will focus to carry forward a common vision for open, inclusive, peaceful and secure Indo-Pacific region. It is the critical timing of the visit which has caught our attention; the US deputy secretary has undertaken the visit, especially when China and USA marks their lowest point in relations in decades.
However, a few days ago China declared to boost strategic ties with Bangladesh. Under the fast changing geopolitical equations in South East Asia, the recent trip is a meaningful one. The latest diplomatic move has military implications also, since security issue is one of the US agendas. In response to Bangladesh's interest to purchase advanced weapon system from the US, On September 11, US Secretary of Defence Mark T Esper spoke to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to discuss to modernise Bangladesh's military capabilities--along with other issues. It is important to mention that, Bangladesh purchases the lion's share of its military hardware from China. For USA , it is an opportunity to turn Bangladesh into a lucrative arms export market.
Among other issues discussed, Rohingya crisis is one of the vital issues where strong US support is imperative t. We must convince our US counterparts that the refugee crisis comes at massive cost. It's a global responsibility to rehabilitate these stateless people. Concurrently, the government must also pursue investment in infrastructure development.
Needless to say that having strong ties with the US is important, but trade and economy should be Bangladesh's main focus. Our government must strike a balance in this diplomatic race between US and China, and especially since China is the largest development partner of Bangladesh.
The point, however, Bangladesh should not allow itself to turn into a diplomatic battleground for global economic and military powers. Maintaining independent and separate relationship with these two countries can maximise our state interest.
Bangladesh can follow the ASEAN model, which has severe tension with China over the South China Sea, even though USA expects ASEAN to stand against China, the regional bloc does not seem interested.
We expect, US engagements with Bangladesh will continue to grow in the coming days. Now it is time for our policy makers to choose the right track.