Managing Partner

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The New Game in Asia
Sheikh Rahman
Senior Advisor

November 5, 2012
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In determining the course of Bangladesh’s foreign relations – the words of a famous Prussian /German statesman of the nineteenth century and renowned figure in world affairs Otto von Bismark may be appropriate - “if you have five neighbors, you need to be on good terms with at least three”. China and India are the two powerful nations in the region that are experiencing economic expansion of unforeseen magnitude. Both China and India are easing the tensions with their neighbors by putting to rest ‘old antagonisms’ for ensuring success in the pursuit of their policy for economic expansion.

India, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka are all in the same vicinity. China lies in close geographical proximity to the territory of Bangladesh, separated only by a narrow Siliguri Corridor of India. United States defies geo-politics of the region by the extent of the global reach of the armed forces and presence of its naval fleet in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. India, China, and the United States are the three most significant players in the region desiring to expand their power and influence by enhanced partnership with the deltaic nation on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Contiguity of the territorial boundaries between Bangladesh, India and Myanmar inland, as well as, in the offshore areas of the Bay are the unchangeable realities and constraints of the geo-politics of the region, as well as, compelling factors in shaping the policy for strategic expansion of the regional power (India), the rising Asian power (China), and the global superpower (the USA). Bangladesh relations with these expansionist powers are crucial in determining the destiny of the country and may have a strong influence in defining a role in regional, as well as, international affairs.

This paper will present a review and inferences drawn from a close examination of the bilateral relations evolving between Bangladesh and these ambitious powers wanting to gain an advantage by a closer relationship with the passive and somewhat pacific nation. Bangladesh on its part has been confined to a reactive and somewhat passive role in international politics during the last four decades of its existence. Bangladesh needs to embark on a more proactive and prominent role based on the predominant economic and political realities of the world affecting the survival and growth prospects of the rising economies.

As the number 1 power in the world, at least, militarily the United States deserves the number 1 position in the review of the policy and strategy of the superpower in the Indian and Pacific Ocean and the extent of the exercise of its power and influence that may have bearings upon the course of its relationship with Bangladesh.

As the number 1 economic power in Asia, the aspiring superpower China seeks to counterbalance the ambition of the superpower for dominating the Asia-Pacific by enhancing its relationship with the nations in the region. India factors into this equation by its desire to curtail China’s presence in Southern Asia – especially, its desire to gain access to the Bay of Bengal by enhancing its relationship with Bangladesh. India is also resisting any encroachments of any external powers in the South Asia region – which it considers its own backyard. Although Indian relations with China have been based on past historical and inimical relations with the rising power the recent dialogue between the Asian nations suggest a change of perspectives on both sides of their ‘inherent rights and responsibilities’ in the region. Bangladesh’s relations with China have been based on its desire to forestall Indian expansionist designs and rests on assumption that the enemy of your enemy is your friend (i.e. based on the mutual distrust of India).

India happens to be the number 1 nation...
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