DHAKA : Unlike Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Bangladesh has conducted prudent macro-economic management in order to not fall into any 'debt trap' of China and has avoided the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) heavy-handedness!
But Paulo Casaca, writing in South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF) cautioned Bangladesh authorities who have been relatively carefree to now be concerned at the potential geopolitical dependency brought by their participation on the BRI.
Bangladesh did not allow Chinese investment in deep-sea ports suitable for a future Chinese Navy presence, as it cancelled the Sonadia deep-sea project and only agreed to a port project in Payra, 'approachable only through a 75-kilometre-long canal, a very unlikely place for a naval base', reported S Ramachandran.
Bangladesh formalised its presence in the 'Belt and Road Initiative', on October 15, 2016, during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the country. Both countries also agreed to promote their relations to the level of 'strategic partnership'.
The volume of investments agreed made Bangladesh the second most important recipient of Chinese funds after Pakistan, reported S Ramachandran.
According to China Daily, and notwithstanding the pandemic-related general slowdown, Chinese investment has been steadily rising in domains such as infrastructure (a new railway crossing on the Padma River is a flagship project) and special economic zones, reported SADF.
The initiative faced some major hurdles. There were important clashes between local workers and Chinese expatriates at the site of the Payra power plant, reported Ramanchadran.`
Popular protests were raised against coal-based projects which, among others, were withdrawn, ostensibly for environmental concerns. Contracts were also cancelled for bribery by the state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), which was blacklisted by Bangladesh authorities in 2018, reported Nikkei Asia.
Moreover, China tried to foray into Bangladesh internal matters when it warned Dhaka to not engage with India and Western powers.
Minister of National Defence Wei Fenghe declared in a meeting with Bangladesh's President Abdul Hamid that in order 'to jointly maintain regional peace and stability, the two sides should make joint efforts against powers outside the region setting up a military alliance in South Asia and practising hegemonism', reported Xinhua.
The point was repeated some days later in a clearer fashion by the Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka: 'Relations with China will be damaged if Bangladesh joins US-led 'Quad' - Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an initiative of Australia, India, Japan and the US, reported The Daily Star.
The warning was more in line with the new Chinese 'wolf warrior diplomacy' than with the originally announced 'absence of strings attached' with BRI projects, wrote Casaca.
The Bangladeshi authorities' reply came swiftly; 'Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen made his displeasure clear, telling reporters: "We are an independent and sovereign state. We decide our foreign policy", reported Nikkei Asia.
The answer was sufficiently clear to cool down the Chinese authoritarian mood, for the time being, reported SADF.
In order to checkmate Chinese designs in the region, Casaca advised democratic countries and neighbours to support Bangladesh.
Bangladesh deserves to fully enjoy available support and engagement from democratic countries and neighbours within the multilateral domain, including naturally the Quad, deciding on each issue according to its own judgements and interests, wrote Casaca. (ANI)