N. P. Upadhyaya, Kathmandu: It would be wise to put some facts straight.
South Asian nation Bangladesh neither has been so far invited nor intends to join the Security Dialogue of the Quad comprising Australia, Japan, India and the United States of America, say regional media sources.
Yet some high placed political authorities in Dhaka hint that B’desh would very much wish ‘being a part’ of the Indo-Pacific initiative, writes Nayanima Basu for the PRINT dated May 12, 2021, because of its strategic location in the Bay of Bengal.
Ms. Basu writes further that even if so, Dhaka would prefer very much to get associated with the ‘economic and connectivity’ aspect of the Quad.
Interestingly, Delhi’s preference obviously would be to bring in Dhaka to the Indo-Pacific orbit but so far it too has not dared to invite its friend-from-the-birth which in the recent years has maintained a close proximity with Delhi’s declared enemy-Beijing.
But it is hard to digest that Delhi may not have yet proposed Dhaka to join the Quadrilateral forum led primarily by the United States of America.
Dhaka, for Delhi is a proxy state.
The ground reality is that Dhaka’s inching closer in the recent months and years to Beijing is detested by Delhi, however, Delhi’s hands are tied as Bangladeshi population take China as an “all weather friend”.
Dhaka has considerable resentment on Indian minister Amit Sah’s calling Bangladeshi nationals as “termites”.
Rebuking the Indian Minister’s use of highly insulting word termite, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh A.K. Abdul Momen said to an Indian media, The Print dated March 27, 2021, that “Bangladeshis are not termites”.
Needless to say, Washington, one of the key players of the Quad claims that Bangladesh was an important partner in South Asia.
Not to mention the fact that Bangladesh as a new South Asian nation emerged only when India under Mrs. Indira Gandhi managed to bifurcate its all-time adversary-Pakistan.
It should be no surprise to note that since 2019/20 onwards, Dhaka and Islamabad have dramatically come closer to the utter dismay of the Delhi rulers.
The Pakistan Ambassador in B’desh Imran Ahmed Siddiqui took the first “secret” initiative in July 2020, which facilitated later Imran Khan’s cautious telephone talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the same month.
Since then, both the countries have been in regular contacts which has been irking New Delhi much to its humiliation.
The China factor obviously has worked for this dramatic sociability in between Islamabad and Dhaka.
After all blood is thicker than water.
To add insult to injury, no less painful for Delhi may have been Beijing’s increasing ties and thereby stimulus in Dhaka’s political circles through several developmental projects and very freshly through the Vaccine diplomacy (Sinopharm).
As predicted by late Bhutto, India has to confront two Pakistan in its neighborhood.
The March violent demonstrations in Dhaka against Modi’s (unwanted) arrival spoke that Dhaka prefers not to be taken as an Indian satellite.
Dhaka also intends to cozy-up with Beijing on its own terms and conditions and political benefits.
Perhaps it is this suppressed interest of Dhaka in joining the Quad even if it be in for a limited purpose that appears to have prompted the visiting Chinese defense minister Wei Fenghe while meeting the President of Bangladesh Abdul Hamid on April 29, 2021, wherein he had said that “China and Bangladesh should make joint efforts against powers from outside the region establishing a “military alliance” in South Asia and practicing hegemonism”.
Notably, as per international media sources including Xinhua, Minister ‘Wei Fenghe made these remarks when Dhaka and Beijing both agreed to “advance the bilateral military cooperation”.
Media sources in Dhaka also claim that President Hamid while meeting Wei Fenghe welcomed Beijing’s desire to strengthen the bilateral defense ties in the days to come.
This definitely was an open invitation to Beijing from Dhaka. Isn’t it?
More so, the Chinese defense minister had said that “Beijing will continue its strategic cooperation in the development of Bangladesh’s armed forces as the military cooperation between two countries are gradually increasing”.
Wei Fenghe made these meaning loaded remarks close on the heels of the Alaska debacle (March 18 to be more precise) which saw high voltage verbal-conflicting disagreements in between the US and the Chinese team that was led respectively by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Communist Party senior man Yang Jiechi.
China felt defeated and thus appears to have taken aggressive steps onwards to challenge the lone Super Power-the USA.
In the eyes of the US, China is an authoritarian country that has least respect for democracy and its core universal values.
On the contrary, China says that it is comfortable with the system what it has and warns the US not to impose its preferred system of governance.
The Alaska meet of the last March will go a long way in jolting both China and the US forcing both to devise schemes to outmaneuver the other in order to establish their superiority in the world power politics.
China now has the Israel-Palestinian conflict to take up against US. And Pakistan has already jolted the US administration and the UN general Assembly.
Freign Minister Qureshi has emerged as one of the most vocal man against Israel.
His talks with the CNN was a rare international interview for multiple reasons.
As a continuity to its aggressive policy acquired post Alaska meet, China very freshly made some near to aggressively “undiplomatic” comments which in all likelihood has shaken Dhaka-Beijing ties.
To come to the point, the Chinese Ambassador in B’desh Li Jiming May 10, 2021, at a press meet with the ‘Diplomatic Correspondents Association of Bangladesh’ warned the host country saying that “Dhaka’s participation in the anti-Beijing club would result in “substantial damage” to bilateral relations.
A close look at Ambassador Jiming’s blunt remarks appears to have been guided best by the theory or say assumption that since “Dhaka and Delhi are tied from the birth-days thus Dhaka may opt to join the Quad club if and when some influential members of the Security block, such as Delhi, Tokyo or even Washington encourage Dhaka to join the political entity to which China has strong distaste and takes as Asian NATO.
But the remarks of the Chinese envoy may have been a preemptive move aimed at sending early signals to Dhaka that Beijing may not like Dhaka joining the so called anti-China club.
China though has no right to dictate Bangladesh its terms on how to chart its foreign policy, but being a close neighbor definitely China can sound or even plead not to inch closer to the Quad.
As a neighbor and a good friend of Bangladesh, China has the right to sound (in private) its views which may or may not be liked by a country or for that matter countries.
Retorting to the Chinese Ambassador’s blunt remarks, the sitting foreign minister of B’desh told the press that, “We are an independent and sovereign State. We decide our foreign policy”.
Foreign Ministry in Dhaka said that the comments made by Li Jiming were “very unfortunate” and presumptuous”.
Foreign Minister Momen had also carrot under his sleeves for Beijing when he added in his rejoinder that, “Usually China does not interfere in others’ affairs.
This speaks that Dhaka has considerable amount of love and honor for Beijing.
This soothing expression intends to hint that Dhaka would not pounce upon Beijing for such a slip of tongue. But was it a slip of tongue or a deliberate ploy to threaten Dhaka?
It was indeed a mild threat but yet Foreign Minister Momen defended the Chinese envoy saying that “But yes, any country can uphold its structured position”.
Clearly, Minister Momen has come to the rescue of the Chinese envoy in an oblique manner.
Momen however also said to the media that so far “The organization he [Li] speaks of has shown no interest in us, so [Li’s] statement was presumptuous,” Momen said, referring to the Quad.
That Dhaka took Beijing’s remarks in a normal manner got reflected when a day after the diplomatic spat, Foreign Minister Abdul Momen thanked Beijing for the Covid vaccine that Beijing donated Dhaka.
The Chinese envoy’s remarks on Quad in Dhaka was played and overplayed by the neighboring India’s Godi media.
Pakistan kept a studied silence. Pakistan for the moment is terribly busy in condemning Israel for its merciless attacks on the abode of the Palestinians which in the process damaged the third most adored Mosque in the world.
Clarifying its position, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on May 12 in a regular briefing that “I can tell you clearly that China and B’desh are very friendly close neighbors.
She further said that the two countries have grown their ties on the basis of the principles of peaceful coexistence”.
A day ahead on May 11, Ned Price, the US State department spokesman said commenting on China’s blast on Quad in Dhaka that “what we would say is that we respect B’desh’s sovereignty and we respect B’desh’s right to make foreign policy decisions for itself”.
Coincidently, Ali Riaz-a professor of Political Science at Illinois University claims, May 14, 2021, that Beijing may have taken note when Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegen-highlighted the importance of Bangladesh to the Quad last year.
On 19 October, 2020, Bigen had said that “The United States sees Bangladesh as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific region, and we’re committed to growing our partnership in this regard to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific”.
Biegen made these remarks following an October 15 meeting with Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen in Dhaka.
This may have in all certainty alarmed Beijing which has also been corroborated by Professor Riaz.
Writes Jasmine Buckner for the Illinois University news letter dated May 14, 2021, that Professor Riaz described the Chinese envoy’s comment as “a pre-emptive move to deter any future possibilities of Bangladesh joining the Quad,” adding that it was also a way to caution Bangladesh from drawing too close to the US.
Global Times on Quad:
Wrote immediately after Chinese Ambassador’s remarks on Quad in Dhaka, the Global Times Daily dated May 11 that “As a response, Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Moment told local English daily Dhaka Post that, “None of us were invited to the Quad, nor did we show interest.”
If what he said is the fact, this will be good. But given that some media outlets, including local ones, had covered Li’s remarks, the news that Bangladesh had been invited to join the Quad was possibly not be groundless.
Bangladesh either had talked with Quad members over this issue, or aim to launch a trial balloon to see China’s reaction”.
The Quad member countries, as per the Chinese media, have resolved to uphold a rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific amid growing Chinese assertiveness in the strategically vital region.
To recall, the first meeting or say Summit of the US led Quad leaders was very freshly hosted by the new US President Joe Biden, March 12, 2021, and the virtual meeting was attended by Indian Prime Minister Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Pakistan media on Quad:
Writes a Pakistani Daily the Nation in its editorial dated May 17, 2021, that “The Quad needs to evolve from a China-focused club of four to a more development-oriented programme. Furthermore, the members, in their efforts to “democratize the region” will only cause more strife, especially now that India has come out openly against Beijing in the virtual meeting.
This makes it essential for players like Pakistan, China and Russia to watch these new developments closely and shore up alliances where possible”.
The Nation further writes that the security dialogue “contained both broad substance and deep symbolism. Biden’s early push for the Quad engagement must be seen as part of his promise to restore America’s global leadership and reaffirm regional alliances that went sore during Trump’s presidency.
Ultimately, like his predecessor, Biden has also chosen the path of confrontation vis a vis China”.
But will President Biden chose the path of confrontation as against reconciliation?
Should this mean that Pakistan, Russia and China will form an alliance of sort to checkmate the US led Quad with India-the nearest rival of Pakistan and China as the undeclared boss of the South Asian region?
Observers in Nepal, however, suggest the US administration under Joe Biden not to allow the South Asian regional bully-India, the authority of a Police State.
India even as of now is more than a Police State. What will happen to the smaller South Asian Nations if and when the US allows a free hand to India? India is a rouge state, President Joe Biden must understand through his own diplomats posted in the South Asian nations.
If so then that would bring political disasters only in the region.
To counter Indian domination in South Asia, other forces/powers will likely extend hands of friendship to Pakistan which is already a regional power in its own right.
Last but not the least,
An article by Paul Wa published May 8, 2021, in ‘Modern Diplomacy’ has something very similar to a Quad but with Chinese model wherein he states, “Only days after President Biden’s drive for a “Quad” in the Indo-pacific, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made his visit to China during March 22 at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.
Paul adds that this reveals the high-level quality of the relations between the two largest Eurasian powers and their agenda has deepened across nearly all dimensions of the comprehensive strategic partnership, such as from diplomacy and defense to economic and technology.
Paul then sums up his article by saying that the growing ties between China and Russia have aimed to establish a multipolar order that dethrones the US as the global hegemon.
To recall, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov too had visited Pakistan and almost offered a blank cheque to the host country.
Russia is not at good terms with India at the moment.
Since China and Pakistan are already closer, should this mean that Pakistan will also join the near to sure China-Russia alliance?
Perhaps much will depend on how the US takes Pakistan in its overall bilateral ties plus on the issues of Afghanistan and the much talked US forces pull out?
And also attached is the Himalayan question: Can Pakistan afford to lose the US friendship? That’s all.