New Delhi: China may be against Bangladesh joining the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, popularly known as the Quad, but none of the countries that are part of the grouping — India, the US, Japan and Australia — have invited Dhaka to join it so far, ThePrint has learnt.
While New Delhi has always been keen to embrace Dhaka under the Indo-Pacific strategic construct, it has until date not invited Bangladesh, not even informally, to join the Quad, multiple sources have told ThePrint.
Sources also said Dhaka has only shown interest so far in “being a part” of the Indo-Pacific initiative because of its location in the Bay of Bengal but even then it is interested only in the economic and connectivity aspect of it.
They added that while India, Japan, US and Australia consider Dhaka to be a “key player” in the Indo-Pacific region, they are aware of the fact that the Sheikh Hasina government is “not open to the idea” of joining the Quad.
The Quad, a strategic and security grouping under the Indo-Pacific framework aimed at restraining China’s rise, held its first summit-level meeting on 12 March. The Quad countries have themselves made it clear many times that they are not keen on expanding the grouping yet.
According to Rajiv Bhatia, former diplomat and now a distinguished fellow at the foreign policy think-tank Gateway House, China is just testing the waters.
“The Quad countries have clearly stated that there are no plans to expand the membership meaninglessly, while they are now focussed on promoting their own agenda,” Bhatia said. “China is well aware of that but even then it has made such a comment just to assess where Bangladesh stands in India-China relations, knowing well New Delhi’s close ties with Dhaka.”
Chinese kick up row
The imbroglio over Quad began earlier this week when Li Jiming, Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh, said bilateral ties between Beijing and Dhaka will be “substantially damaged” if the latter joins the Quad.
The Chinese envoy was speaking at an event organised by the Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (DCAB).
During the event, Li also said that China considers the Quad to be a minor anti-China initiative.
On Tuesday, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen rebuffed the Chinese envoy’s statement, saying at a press conference that Dhaka pursues an independent foreign policy even as he referred to the statement made by Li as “regrettable.”
“It’s very regrettable … We are an independent and sovereign state. We decide our foreign policy,” Momen said. “But yes, any country can uphold its position. Naturally, he (Ambassador Li) represents a country. They can say what they want. Maybe they don’t want it … We will listen to what they say. But we will decide what is good for us.”
As the matter grew out of control, which even led the US State Department to comment on it, the Chinese envoy reportedly met Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen Wednesday in an effort to explain his remarks.
Li reportedly told Momen that he “did not mean to harm the ties between the two countries (Bangladesh and China)” and that his remarks were taken out of context”.
At a press briefing Tuesday, the US State Department’s spokesperson Ned Price said, “We have taken note of that statement from the PRC (People’s Republic of China) … What we would say is that we respect Bangladesh’s sovereignty and we respect Bangladesh’s right to make foreign policy decisions for itself.”
“When it comes to the Quad, we have said this before… it’s an informal, essential, multilateral mechanism that right now convenes like-minded democracies, the United States, India, Australia and Japan to coordinate in the Indo-Pacific and fundamentally to push forward our goal of a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” Price added.
Bangladesh keen to join Indo-Pacific for economic reasons
Bangladesh has earlier shown interest in joining the Indo-Pacific initiative but that is aimed at strengthening its economic ties with countries in this vast region and also for enhanced connectivity.
In an interview to ThePrint earlier this year, Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Momen had said that Dhaka views Indo-Pacific purely from an economic perspective and is also contemplating coming out with a strategy for the region.
“We are evidently interested in Indo-Pacific because we are in the Bay of Bengal area and part of the blue economy,” Momen had then said. “For us, getting part of any security alliance as such is difficult because we believe in non-aligned policies and we would like to keep it that way.”
India and Bangladesh had jointly inaugurated the ‘Maitri Setu’ (Friendship Bridge) in March, weeks before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka, in an effort to enhance infrastructure connectivity with the neighbouring country, as New Delhi plans to take Dhaka into its strategic embrace under the umbrella of Indo-Pacific cooperation.
India has also joined hands with Japan in developing connectivity with Bangladesh.
“Bangladesh will eventually come up with its own Indo-Pacific policy as it seeks closer ties with the Southeast Asian region but that is a decision for them to take,” Bhatia said.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
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