• Thursday, Dec 12, 2019
  • Last Update : 01:36 am

We need to talk about India and China

  • Published at 11:29 pm February 12th, 2019
Modi Ping
An either/or choice? REUTERS

What does the AL’s third consecutive victory mean for other regional powers?

Bangladesh held its much anticipated General Elections on December 30. Sheikh Hasina, the flag-bearer of the Awami League, was reinstated as the prime minister of Bangladesh for the third consecutive term after a sweeping defeat of the opposition. 

The outcome hardly baffled those who regularly analyze the socio-economic and political affairs of Bangladesh: The AL triumph was indubitable, nonetheless, the 288 votes received by the party out of 300 seats contested -- making it more than 90% of votes -- did generate some curiosity on the authenticity of the elections.

Right after the post-result announcement, accounts of unrest and destruction being carried out allegedly by AL supporters were reported; adding fuel to these claims. Regardless, the AL’s triple-row victory makes Sheikh Hasina the longest serving PM in the history of Bangladesh.

Post-election challenges

Now that the elections are over, the task of the PM is to focus on balancing the strategic interests of our two neighbouring giants: India and China.

The PM’s future challenges are to synthesize Bangladesh’s domestic anxieties by simultaneously maintaining the equilibrium with its regional interconnections, more precisely, its relation with India and China. 

In the previous two terms, the AL’s success was embraced by the international community, including India and China, as an expedient alternative to any possible unrest in the region.

Both China and India are Bangladesh’s development partners, yet the temperament of Bangladesh’s association with both nations is disparately structured. While India played a formative role in liberating Bangladesh, bonded by shared cultural common ground, China emerged as the key development partner.

Until now, Sheikh Hasina has maintained a great rapport with India, while also establishing a robust association with China. At this juncture, it will be interesting to observe how these relationships unfold in the next five years.

Will Bangladesh swing towards China more or towards India? 

India’s support in the last four decades has been a constant factor despite the ups and downs, which seemingly improved in the last decade. The China factor is, on the other hand, an inevitable reality.

India-Bangladesh-China triangle

It seems like Bangladesh has geo-strategic importance to both India and China. Since 2008, Bangladesh and India have had an uninterrupted decade-long solid relationship.

New Delhi has even invested substantially to establish solid ties with Dhaka, especially Modi’s government, which has significantly elevated the stakes during the last four years.

Sheikh Hasina’s win indicates potential forthcoming developments in India’s favour, who has always been a trusted ally. At present, China is Bangladesh’s major trading partner and leading military provider.

This partnership makes India restless.

The geo-strategic advantage of Bangladesh is a salient feature for China. President Xi Jinping’s One Belt One Road initiative (OBOR) is one of the reasons.

In fact, Beijing acknowledged Bangladesh as essential element in OBOR and committed to an investment worth $24 billion.

On the other hand, Bangladesh is also rather attractive to India for its Act East ambitions, their north-eastern agenda, their developmental goals, as well as for security purposes. In addition to the $1bn offered in 2010, the Modi government extended close to $9bn as credit and aid for the Rampal project.

According to many IR gurus and experts, this rather super speedy diplomatic pursuit by India has been called “China factor.” It is quite paradoxical how China was the last country to acknowledge independent Bangladesh, yet now, China has constantly and increasingly been interested in Bangladesh since the mid-70s in terms of both civil and military cooperation. The escalating closeness certainly perturbs India.

What to look out for

The PM’s triple win shows just how insightful and astute she is in both domestic and foreign policy. She will, therefore, definitely not take any steps to vex India. At the same time, China’s enthusiasm towards providing massive financial support, a possible debt-trap in semblance, does generate curiosity. If played strategically, she could hammer out a favourable deal for the country, using China against India.

Considering the PM’s relentless efforts to develop our economy, a helping hand from both India and China seems most desirable. The PM’s challenge is to not find herself in a situation of binary choice with these rising Asian powers. For Bangladesh, the most beneficial outcome would be to accommodate its allies, carefully attenuating India’s and China’s related apprehensions. 

Hoimonti Barua is a PhD student, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.