Bangladesh’s relations with other countries of the world have witnessed ups and downs over the years since its independence back in the last century. But it has always tried to steer a middle course, a principle of neutrality, in pursuing its foreign policy. As Bangladesh believes in the territorial integrity, its foreign policy is non-aligned, non-interventionist, non-aggressive, non-imperialist and non-expansionist as well. Friendship to all and malice to none is the key to its foreign policy. Dhaka has established ties and bonds with more than 100 countries, territories, regional and global blocs like the SAARC, the United Nation (UN) and Commonwealth resulting in maintaining multiple bilateral and multilateral partnerships in cooperation with them. The areas of its interests mainly include defence cooperation, trade ties, economic cooperation, collaboration in education, connectivity, power and energy, agriculture, cultural exchange, technology transfer and climate change.
CORE VALUES OF FOREIGN POLICY
In other words, Bangladesh does not take sides with major powers. It pursues a moderate foreign policy that places heavy reliance on multinational diplomacy and accordingly maintains its external ties with the international community. Dhaka eyes better and friendly relations with regional neighbours. It has a long-time alliance with India, China, Japan, Russia, the United States, Malaysia and South Korea. Bangladesh is a member of dozens of global economic bodies like the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank to name but a few for its economic progress as a nation. Over the years, Bangladesh has made a great stride on all socio-economic fronts and it is on the right track to become a middle-income country by 2026.
India is Bangladesh’s next-door neighbour that surrounds Bangladesh on its three sides. The diplomatic relationship between Bangladesh and India is historic and mutual in terms of politics, culture, trade and commerce. The ties between the two countries are strategic, friendly, shared and reciprocal. India was one of the first countries to recognise Bangladesh and establish diplomatic links immediately after its independence. New Delhi made goodwill gestures to cultivate with Dhaka good neighbourly ties based on friendship, mutual respect and commitment to peace, stability and prosperity. The friendship of the two nations has been flowing sinuously for the past 51 years. This long journey together is seen by many as a symbol of love for each other for their shared values and common culture. Both countries thus celebrated in 2021 the golden jubilee of their multilateral bonding—50 years of Bangladesh’s birth and 50 years of the Indo-Bangla ties! The ties are seamless since the 1971 Liberation War against Pakistan.
Bangladesh’s ties with China are stronger than ever before. Many have seen Bangladesh’s bonhomie and alignment with China in recent years. There are various facets in the Sino-Bangla ties. The duo are moving forward economically, socially and culturally through multidimensional cooperation. They share defence, economic, political and people-to-people ties. Dhaka gets duty-free, quota-free access of 97 per cent Bangladeshi products to China. But the bilateral trade between the two countries is heavily tilted in favour of China, as the gap between the trade deficit is huge, nearly 1,600 per cent. Out of around $12.09 billion bilateral trade in fiscal year 2020, Bangladesh’s export to China only accounted for $0.60 billion while imports from China added up to a mammoth $11.49 billion.
Bangladesh has undergone so many recent diplomatic developments with its foreign partners like the United States and China. Last month, America slapped sanctions on Bangladesh elite force RAB, the chief of Bangladesh Police and former army chief which are unexpected and said to have cast a negative impact on the image of Bangladesh. India and Bangladesh have recently signed several instruments to further engage in Bangladesh’s socio-economic growth. India is keen to use Chattogram and Mongla ports for movement of goods to and from India, particularly from north-eastern India.
As an Asia economic powerhouse and an aspirant global hegemon, China is desperately trying to be on the side of Bangladesh with an offer of help on all fronts. It has already become a partner in Bangladesh’s progress. Where is not the involvement of China in the mega and fast-track infrastructure projects? Padma Bridge, Payra seaport and several power plant projects. Russia is also trying to befriend Bangladesh to take it on its axis in the geopolitical context in order to flex its muscle as a continental power. Bangladesh is being used as a bait or pawn for the game. The Russian state-owned Rosatom is implementing Bangladesh’s maiden nuclear power plant at Rooppur.
In sum, Bangladesh has the potential to harness the dividend of the US-China trade spat, especially in the readymade garment sector. It should focus on further areas of cooperation with time-tested and all-weather allies. The areas include investment, regional connectivity, blue economy, cultural economy, environment and disaster management, resolution of refugee crisis and visa-free movement of people in the SAARC region.