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25 December, 2017 10:45:10 AM

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New paradigm of balanced developmental diplomacy needed

Both the geographical location and the economic growth of the country in the past two decades are to be credited for the attention it is now receiving internationally
Prof. Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled
New paradigm of balanced developmental diplomacy needed

Global economic activities are currently shifting toward Asia resulting in Bangladesh's importance grown internationally. As a result careful steps needed to be taken by Bangladesh to utilize this opportune moment.

The Bangladesh's geopolitical and geostrategic importance has at present grown to a large extent. It brings an opportune moment for the country but it must be very careful in making its choices. On the other hand, Bangladesh needs to search for a new paradigm of balanced autonomous developmental diplomacy that matches the three core principles of Bangladesh's proclamation of independence – equality, human dignity and social justice.
The efforts to include Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B) initiative of Japan, the One Belt One Road (OBOR) of China and the Naya Disha policy of India point to the fact that Bangladesh's geopolitical and geostrategic importance have grown. Both the geographical location and the economic growth of the country in the more that past two decades are to be credited for the attention it is now receiving internationally.
As none of these initiatives are devoid of the strategic objectives of these countries – Japan, China and India – Bangladesh must be very careful in making its choices. It is not only a matter of balancing among these three countries but also necessary to consider the future trajectories. The long-term interests of Bangladesh should dictate the nature, scope and degree of engagements. But decisions based on immediate political gains or ad-hoc measures will be immensely harmful for the country. These issues warrant public discussions and involvement of all political forces irrespective of party affiliations, citizens and the members of the civil society. But unfortunately, the current environment for such conversation is absent in the country.

Bangladesh bordered with India to its west and separated states of the former's northeast, Myanmar to the southeast, laying access to ASEAN countries and China, and separated from Nepal and Bhutan by the chicken's neck corridor, with the Bay of Bengal in the South, connecting a vast majority of the world's nations and population, sits at the heart of a geostrategic polity. At present the question faces Bangladesh is: Does it have a strategy to translate such potentials into reality? This begs a further question: how does it make a delicate act of endurance to harness its demographics and strategically locational hub?

First of all, to call a long-term relationship of trade, aid and investment are a strategy might go a step too far. Secondly, a support to the core interest is part of a mosaic and thirdly, the tilt towards countries and grouping may lead to vulnerability. A balancing act with national interest at the core is not an impossible task. All this require Bangladesh to search for new paradigm of “Balanced Autonomous Developmental Diplomacy”, said an expert belonging to the Unnayan Onneshan (UO), an interdisciplinary think tank. He said the challenge is to establish a new sense of multilateralism of live and let live, dwarfing certain coteries' hawkish tendencies surrounding with so-called “String of Pearls, Necklace of Diamond and mobilisation in the Indian Ocean”.

Bangladesh's participation in the OBOR, to date, appears to be enthusiastic but cautious. The reason is not difficult to ascertain. Political rather than economic consideration is causing some hesitations from the part of Bangladesh.

The close relationship between Bangladesh and India, particularly the present Bangladesh government, has put them on a slow path. The Chinese efforts to embrace various countries of South Asia, including Bangladesh, is not viewed by Indian policymakers very kindly as they see it a challenge to Indian's influence and interests.

While undoubtedly Bangladesh will benefit from the connectivity the OBOR will offer to it, it should emphasize other aspects of Bangladesh-China economic relationships. As for example, the prevailing trade gap. There is a need to act urgently and robustly on the trade gap between these two countries – Bangladesh and China. The request for duty-free access of Bangladesh goods to China’s market has not been responded yet. These should be a part of the negotiations. Pondering on another question, the most obvious benefit for Bangladesh is the connectivity with various countries in Asia.

The Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor is a case in point and understandably, it is an important part of the OBOR project. But the third Joint Study Group (JSG) meeting held in April 2017 showed that the tug of war between China and India is holding back its progress. The connectivity is the potentials for significant investments. Chinese investments in Bangladesh are on the rise and expected to grow further. However, they would like to ring a bell of caution here. By the way Bangladesh at present is facing a fragile relation with Myanmar because of the recent Rakhine Muslim crisis that is enough to make it difficult for both the countries to work together till the problem is amicably solved.  

Chinese investments in various countries, particularly in African continent in the past decades, have faced enormous criticisms ranging from controversial business practices to failure to promote good governance and human rights. But in such cases the major part of the responsibility lies with the host country’s administration rather than the countries making foreign investments. However, the investing foreign countries may set condition to that regard. At present Bangladesh lacks good governance and its human rights conditions are not satisfactory according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), even then various foreign countries are making investments here; for that we hardly see anyone blaming foreign investors. Bangladesh should mend its own faults without blaming others.     

However, the OBOR initiative was enshrined in the Chinese Communist Party’s constitution at a key congress in October 2017. Some estimates say more than US $1 trillion has been pledged to the initiative, with projects proposed in some 65 countries including Bangladesh. Now on the ground it has run into problems. The projects traverse through countries like insurgency-hit areas, dictatorships and chaotic democracies. Apart from these the projects face resistance from corrupt politicians of different countries concerned. From Washington think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Murray Hiebert who has studied some of the projects in Southeast Asia said that building infrastructure across countries in region like this is very complicated, “You’ve got land issues, you have to hammer out funding agreements, (and) you have to hammer out technological issues”. However, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying insisted the initiative was “moving forward smoothly”.

The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General

Education Cadre  

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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