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Bangladesh needs to be friends with both US and China

It is the moral responsibility of China and the US to cooperate with Bangladesh, which needs both countries to achieve its developmental goals

Mehjabin Bhanu Jan 22, 2022
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Bangladesh needs to be friends with both US and China

Bangladesh needs both the US and China. The US has shifted its policy from 'Asia Pacific' towards 'Indo Pacific' to counter China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Both want Bangladesh in their blocks. 

Bangladesh has no intention of joining any bloc. Whether it is involved in the US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) or the China-led BRI, it must maintain peace and the rule of law in the region to reap the maximum economic benefits from these. 

Despite requests from the US for years, it didn't show any interest in signing the ACSA (Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement) and GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement).  

On the other hand, when the Chinese envoy commented that Bangladesh shouldn't join IPS, Dhaka strongly protested saying it was capable of forming its own national policy. 

Bangladesh believes in peaceful coexistence. Whether it is involved in the IPS or BRI, it must maintain peace and the rule of law in the critical maritime region. 

Unhappy US 

But US may target Bangladesh because it is an active partner of the Chinese BRI project. Recent sanctions on Bangladesh RAB are a clear example. But the US should understand that Bangladesh is also with the US. 

The US is the main export destination of Bangladeshi garments. Bangladesh also believes in the Free and Open Indo Pacific strategy. Bangladesh needs both the US and China for rapid economic growth.  

Washington and Dhaka have extensive cooperation in regional and global security, counter-terrorism and climate change. Bangladesh was an important participant in the Obama administration's major international development initiatives including food security, healthcare and environment. In 2012, a strategic dialogue agreement was signed between the two countries. In 2015, US Ambassador to Bangladesh Marcia Bernikat described the relationship as "vibrant, multifaceted and essential".  

As of 2016, Bangladesh was the largest recipient of US assistance in Asia outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US-Bangladesh relationship is strengthened by the Bangladeshi American community. Fazlur Rahman Khan designed the tallest tower in the US in Chicago. 

US-B’Desh ties 

According to American official data, the US is the largest export market in Bangladesh. It is one of the largest sources of FID in Bangladesh. The largest American investment in the country is Chevron, which produces 50 percent of Bangladesh's natural gas. Bilateral trade in 2014 was the $6 billion.  
Major US exports to Bangladesh are agricultural products (soybean, cotton, wheat and dairy products), aircraft, machinery, engines and iron and steel products. American imports from Bangladesh include clothing, footwear and textile products, toys, games and sporting goods, shrimp and agricultural products.  

The US has assisted Bangladesh during cyclone relief operations in 1991 and 2007. In 2017, US direct investment in Bangladesh was $460 million, an increase of 0.4 percent from 2016. Bangladesh's exports to the US totaled $9.4 billion between January and October last year.  

The American government has made $218 million worth of Covid-19 donations alongside 28 million vaccines to Bangladesh. In addition, a US company has signed an agreement with Bangladesh to install the undersea submarine cable at a cost of $700 million to $1 billion by 2023 that will connect France via Singapore. 

China is friend 

On the other hand, though China and Bangladesh shared an adversarial relationship during the independence movement and immediately after that, the ties have undergone a tremendous transformation. China is now seen by many in Bangladesh as an ‘all-weather friend’. Defence ties are an important area of relationship. 

China, the largest economy in Asia, has decided to grant duty-free access to 98 percent of Bangladeshi products through the inclusion of 383 new products, especially leather and leather goods, in the zero-treatment list. 

The relationship between China and Bangladesh has been developing with mutual cooperation and friendship. Bangladesh has maintained unwavering support for the "One China Policy". 

China has become Bangladesh's largest trading partner. Bangladesh is China's third largest trading partner and third largest engineering contracting market in South Asia. Bangladesh is an important participant in China's BRI. 

Although bilateral trade favours China heavily, Bangladesh has enormous potential in the Chinese markets. Its exports to China may show a growth in 2022. 

On October 14, 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Bangladesh and announced huge investments in various sectors. Their implementation is now in full swing. Among the ongoing projects are the Padma Multipurpose Bridge, Karnafuli Tunnel, Dhaka-Chittagong Highway 4-Lane Upgradation, Payra Port Development, Chittagong-Cox's Bazar Railway, Power Grid Network Strengthening, Dhaka-Ashulia Elevated Expressway and Dhaka-Sylhet Four Lane Highway. 

Covid diplomacy 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, China extended a helping hand. It gifted 1.2 million vaccines to Bangladesh in two phases. It is expected that China will soon start vaccination production in a joint venture with Bangladesh in addition to supplying vaccines. The Bangladesh Army has been equipped with Chinese tanks, its navy has Chinese frigates and missile boats and the Bangladesh Air Force flies Chinese fighter jets. In 2002, China and Bangladesh signed a "Defence Cooperation Agreement" which covers military training and defence production. 

Thus, it is the moral responsibility of both China and the US to cooperate with Bangladesh. To achieve its developmental goals, Bangladesh needs both the US and China.

(The author is a teacher and social worker from Rajshahi, Bangladesh. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at mehjabinbhanu1579@gmail.com) 

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