By: Saleem Samad
The entire media and foreign offices of South Asian countries are eagerly watching as the development unfolds in New Delhi.
The Southeast Asian countries are also waiting for the outcome of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue from the visit of a high-profile American delegation led by United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin while External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh headed the Indian side.
The agenda for the dialogue on Friday (10 November), on the eve of a weekend, would not discuss the wars in Gaza and Ukraine but would focus on security challenges in the Indo-Pacific and concerns over China.
China has kept all its eyes and ears of the red dragon focused on Delhi to understand what resolutions have been adopted at the so-called 2+2 talks against the giant of Asia.
The 61-year-old Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra, responding to a query by journalist Yeshi Seli of the New Indian Express about whether Bangladesh was on the menu, the veteran diplomat said “As I mentioned, extensive discussions took place on different regional developments in South Asia and other parts of the world also. And so far as Bangladesh is concerned we shared our perspective very, very clearly.
“It is not our space to comment on the policy of a third country. I think when it comes to developments in Bangladesh, elections in Bangladesh, it is their domestic matter. It is for the people of Bangladesh to decide their future.
“We as a close friend and partner of Bangladesh respect the democratic processes in Bangladesh and will continue to support that country’s vision of a stable, peaceful and progressive nation that the people of that country seek for themselves.
“We were very clear in sharing our perspective on how we look at situations in different parts of the world and that includes Bangladesh with the US side during these discussions,” the veteran diplomat said softly.
Meanwhile, the United States Ambassador Peter Haas to Bangladesh has flown to New Delhi ahead of Blinken’s arrival.
Sources said, Haas is likely to update the Indian and US sides on where things stand for them in Bangladesh. It could not be ascertained what has transpired from the official briefing by the US envoy, who has been recently threatened to be beaten up black and blue by a ‘golden boy’ from the governing Awami League for Haas, allegedly hobnobbing with the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The governing party did not take action against the henchman.
The US has been reiterating that there should be free, fair and inclusive elections in Bangladesh. The upcoming national election is expected in early January 2024.
Both India and the USA are concerned about Bangladesh that it should not be allowed to slip into the fold of the Red Dragon. Understanding that the country is in debt due to loans it needs to repay to China under its so-called Belt and Road Initiative. Many define the Chinese motive behind the mega projects are debt trap for a poor country.
The United States, India, Japan and Korea do not want to see a pro-Chinese regime come to power. China is deep down in Bangladesh’s politics and so-called economic development partner.
The United States, India and Japan see China as a threat to regional security having its visible footprint in Bangladesh.
These countries have time and again expressed doubt about the strong pro-Chinese lobbies in the country, which besides the political parties and their leaders, includes the media and the business community remains an influential force.
That is why India and the United States cannot trust the principal opposition BNP, for not only being anti-Indian but also a die-hard pro-Chinese. China first made inroads into Bangladesh during General Ziaur Rahman’s era when the military dictator made his first official visit to Beijing in 1977.
China recognised Bangladesh after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the independence hero.
The military dictator sought China’s political and military blessings to counter Indian influence, which was suddenly disrupted on 15 August 1975 after the death of Sheikh Mujib. It’s a long history in short.
India surely does not wish Bangladesh to go away and envisages that Bangladesh should continue to remain a good neighbour.
Delhi is nervous after China’s increasing influence in South Asia and meddling with politics. After Mohammed Muizzu won the elections in Maldives. India, lost its political clout in the island nation located in the Indian Ocean as the country slid into the Chinese lap.
China does not care about free and fair elections, as they do not practice democracy in an authoritarian rule and have rebuked the West without naming any country for “interfering in domestic affairs”. (The author is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). He is also a recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @saleemsamad)