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Dhaka walks tightrope in balancing partnerships with Delhi, Beijing

Published : Thursday, 16 May, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 396

Dhaka walks tightrope in balancing partnerships with Delhi, Beijing

Dhaka walks tightrope in balancing partnerships with Delhi, Beijing

China exploits areas of friction between India and Bangladesh. Concerns have been raised about Chinas $1 billion Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project in Bangladesh. This project, aimed at dredging and embanking the river, could cause tension with India, particularly amidst ongoing negotiations over a water-sharing agreement. Md Touhid Hossain, a former foreign secretary of Bangladesh, warns about potential problems, especially near Indias Siliguri Corridor. Fears centre on Chinas presence in the corridor under the pretext of development projects, raising concerns about wider geopolitical ramifications.

Bangladesh finds itself in a strategic tight spot, juggling alliances with its two powerful neighbours, China and India. The relationship with China, once strained, has blossomed into a strategic partnership, reflecting the shifting power dynamics in South Asia. Economic cooperation and strategic investments drive this complex regional machinery.

Bangladeshs deepening ties with China raise eyebrows in India, especially given their strong historical connections. Although bilateral trade with India has tripled in a decade, Bangladeshs exports remain low, highlighting underlying issues. In the fiscal year 2021-22, bilateral trade between Bangladesh and India reached US$15.93 billion, but Bangladeshs exports to India accounted for just US$1.98 billion of the overall trade. Non-tariff barriers, bureaucratic border procedures, and historical disagreements have impeded trade growth between the two countries. These obstacles, coupled with political tensions, create a challenging environment for bilateral trade.

China exploits areas of friction between India and Bangladesh. Concerns have been raised about Chinas $1 billion Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project in Bangladesh. This project, aimed at dredging and embanking the river, could cause tension with India, particularly amidst ongoing negotiations over a water-sharing agreement. Md Touhid Hossain, a former foreign secretary of Bangladesh, warns about potential problems, especially near Indias Siliguri Corridor. Fears centre on Chinas presence in the corridor under the pretext of development projects, raising concerns about wider geopolitical ramifications.

Chinas role as a linchpin in Bangladeshs economic development is undeniable. Since the early 2000s, Chinese foreign direct investment has skyrocketed, fuelling growth across diverse sectors. From energy and infrastructure to education and technology, Chinas investments are a boon. Notably, their involvement in energy projects, including green initiatives and coal-powered plants, helps Bangladesh meet its growing energy demands.

Chinas Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has transformed Bangladeshs infrastructure landscape. With billions allocated to various projects, China has played a key role in constructing critical infrastructure like the Padma Bridge and the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel. These projects not only improve internal connectivity but also position Bangladesh as a crucial node in Chinas regional ambitions.

However, this economic embrace comes with concerns about transparency and sustainability of Chinese investments. Potential debt traps and environmental damage are real risks. Bangladesh must tread carefully, ensuring economic cooperation aligns with long-term development goals while mitigating negative environmental and social impacts.

The delicate balance between China and India highlights the complexities of South Asian geopolitics. Prime Minister Hasinas government, aware of Bangladeshs strategic significance, navigates these complexities with caution. By fostering strong partnerships with both giants while safeguarding national interests, Bangladesh strives for strategic autonomy in this evolving geopolitical landscape.

Chinas growing influence in Bangladesh is a double-edged sword. While it promises to reshape the regional order, it sparks concerns in India about existing alliances and potential debt burdens. As Bangladesh strengthens its ties with China, India worries about Beijings expanding regional clout built on economic initiatives and perceived "debt-trap diplomacy."

Overall, Bangladeshs strengthening economic and strategic bonds with China have raised concerns among India and neighbouring powers, given the potential to tilt the geopolitical equilibrium in South Asia. The growing Chinese influence in Bangladesh could reshape the regions geopolitical dynamics, leading to a reassessment of alliances and partnerships. Bangladesh must navigate these complexities with prudence, aiming for strategic autonomy while balancing relationships with both China and India.

The writer is Senior Sub-editor at The Daily Observer







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