Bangladesh-India relations for development cooperation shined as an instance on the second day of the Dhaka Global Dialogue yesterday, while tensions between regional powers -- Japan versus China and India versus China -- surfaced prominently.
Policymakers and academics lauded Bangladesh and India for solving their maritime and land boundary disputes and for promoting connectivity.
“Importance of connectivity [between Bangladesh and India] can be judged by the excitement that is there in India’s northeastern states... India’s connectivity with Bangladesh is a game-changer,” said Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das.
She also spoke of recent deals allowing India to use Chattogram and Mongla ports, and rail and roads linking India and Bangladesh.
These are game-changers for India, especially the northeastern region as well as for Bangladesh, she said at a session on “Connecting the Indo-Pacific: infrastructure and influence” yesterday at the three-day conference.
Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) and India’s Observer Research Foundation (ORF) are jointly organising the event at the InterContinental Dhaka.
Riva Ganguly said around 80 percent of India’s US $8 billion line of credit to Bangladesh is being used for connectivity projects.
She said Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s vision is to see all pre-1965 railway connections reestablished between India and Bangladesh. Of those, four are functioning, while others are in progress.
Ryosuke Hanada, research fellow of Japan Institute of International Affairs, said Bangladesh and India abide by the verdict of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and have settled their maritime dispute, making it a great example for others to follow.
However, China is not abiding by the UNCLOS ruling over disputed waters of the South China Sea, the Japanese scholar said.
Minwang Lin, professor at the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University in China, questioned why China and Russia are not invited to the Indo-Pacific Security Dialogue -- held by India, the US, Japan and Australia.
In response, Indian Congress leader and MP Manish Tewari said there is “over-sensitivity” about the US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS).
“When my Chinese friend questions why they weren’t invited to the Indo-Pacific conference, I can also ask why India was not invited before the BRI [China-led Belt and Road Initiative] was rolled out,” he said.
Manish Tewari said, “I don’t think if you are going to make it an Asian century, you can live in this zero-sum game… There will be various concepts and constructs. You have to go and help each other.”
“People who lead countries need to be a little more enlightened… and think how they can integrate all the different concepts in order to make life of the people in Asia better than what they are today,” he said.
He also said India should have articulated its position clearly about the BRI for its own interest, instead of keeping away.
State Minister for foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam said Bangladesh believes the IPS and BRI are not conflicting but complimentary to each other.
“But one thing is evident that it is Asian century, and this is the area that the world power, economy and military power are focused at, and that’s why countries in this region need to remain in a close bonding and cooperation as much as possible,” he added.
“People prefer free movements, so thus the trade, and obviously trade is a very important element of our national interest, regional interest for all the countries,” Alam said.
Speaking at the session, BIISS Director General Maj Gen AKM Abdur Rahman said big powers need to accommodate the smaller states for a greater goal of regional development.