A NUMBER of challenges lie ahead of Bangladesh amid the intensifying rivalry of India, the United States and Japan with China, which appears to be rolling on to a new cold war. The major challenge that Bangladesh is faced with is that the country appears to be at risk of becoming a party to the new cold war as the conflicting countries, for their national and strategic interests, approach Bangladesh, for its strategic location on the bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia. But becoming a party to any of the conflicting campaigns, as foreign policy and defence strategists say, might be detrimental to the country’s national interests and, therefore, it must maintain neutrality and balance prioritising national and strategic interests. India’s plan, as expressed recently by its minister of external affairs, to engage Japan in taking joint projects, as the two countries have done on a limited scale in Sri Lanka, in Bangladesh and Myanmar appears to assume ramified significance against the backdrop of the efforts by several countries — India, Australia, Japan and the United States, called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the Quad — to forge new partnerships with countries on the rims of the Indian and Pacific oceans styled as Indo-Pacific Strategy in the face of China’s growing activities, mostly economic though, in the area.
Bangladesh, which already has bilateral and other agreements on different development programmes with China, India and Japan and which is also a participant of the China-led global infrastructure development strategy, known as the Belt and Road Initiative, should, therefore, choose its path based on national interests and should pursue an equidistant policy to both the parties of the ‘new cold war’. Having already been in an apparent fix trying to deal with the present Rohingya crisis where Bangladesh appears to have largely been left alone, the government should critically assess and evaluate the Indo-Pacific Strategy to see whether it is a benign development and economic programme or it is being floated to counter the growing influence of China in the area. Regionally speaking, India, Japan and China are competing to fill in the void in world leadership and in that pursuit these countries are intensely trying to influence other countries, especially the neighbouring ones, through investment, trade and development partnership in order to safeguard their security and strategic interest. All these countries, along with the United States, want a gateway to, and control over, the Indian Ocean as it is vital for any potential world power to dominate the region and Bangladesh’s, as well as Myanmar’s, strategic location is what makes it a sought-after participant in the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Keeping in mind the growing Sino-India tensions, the apparently emerging ‘new cold war’ and the national and strategic interests, Bangladesh should determine its engagement in, or disengagement from, global and regional platforms.
Bangladesh must engage neighbouring countries, especially India and China, and mobilise the international communities to resolve the longstanding Rohingya crisis. As for engaging in the Indo-Pacific Strategy — Indian and Japanese authorities are yet to send any specific proposal on joint projects to the Bangladesh government though — Bangladesh must ensure that it does not get aboard to become a party to a new cold war. Bangladesh must demonstrate its ability to balance the Asian giants in order to accrue and actualise its national interests.
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