What it means for Bangladesh
On the world's geopolitical stage, the US and China are the two topmost actors of the 21st century; and India is not trailing very far behind them. The USA is still the world's foremost economic and military power, with interests around the globe and an unmatched global reach. Its GDP accounts for close to a quarter of the world total, and its military budget is reckoned to be almost as much as the rest of the world's defence spending put together. And China, the country that has been a sustained sprinter in the global economic race for the last three decades, surpassed Japan (in February 2011) and became the second largest economy of the world, with much enhanced military might and global clout.
Although still far behind the US, in both economic and military terms, China is eyeing the number one position; and the US is evidently worried by China's speed. On the other hand, India is now a global economic power to be reckoned with, rivaling and competing economically, militarily and in other ways with her big and potentially menacing neighbour China –with whom it has serious territorial disputes and fought a war in 1962. In the international arena, India is continuing to gain more political clout and trying to secure a permanent seat in the UNSC.
In our world where every country is striving to protect, promote and multiply its own interests and influence in the international arena characterised by numerous, intertwining, conflicting and hugely complicated dynamics, the relations between these three major nations are quite expectedly complex and subject to change in regional and global scenarios.
What we discern in the relations of the three countries is two facets of their relationship with one another. One is that of intense and broad-based interaction and cooperation in matters of trade and commerce, climate change, counter-terrorism, disarmament and non-proliferation, energy, security, education, health, science and technology, etc. for mutual benefit, while the other, which is thinly veiled, is that of intense competition and rivalry for more power and regional and global clout. That explains why the US has shifted its pivot in the Pacific Ocean toward Asia and why it is seen siding with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries with whom China is facing ongoing disputes over some islands in the East and South China Seas.
Each of these three countries indispensably needs the other two as development partners. However, the challenge before them is to keep a tight lid on the tensions and disputes and the sense of rivalry between them (particularly between China and the US) and resolve the disputes through peaceful negotiations.
Thanks to the continuous rise of many Asian countries over the last few decades, especially that of China and India, there has been manifold increase in the use of the Indian Ocean shipping lanes and in the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean. It is through the Indian Ocean that China, India and other countries of the Far East, Southeast Asia and South Asia get their supplies of fossil fuel from the Persian Gulf states. So, both China and India are vying with each other for strategic control of the Indian Ocean for their own reasons. And with the containment of China policy in its mind, the US seems to be in the process of shifting a pivot of their defence machinery to the Indian Ocean too. With proper strategic and military control upon the Indian Ocean, it could, if need be, try to choke China's oil supplies from the Persian Gulf and cut off its (China's) growing trade and economic linkages with Africa.
Being aware of such possible anti-China moves by its rivals and enemies under a war situation, China is trying to mend and strengthen its ties with the countries of Southeast Asia (despite disputes with a few over some islands) and with the strategically located countries on the Indian Ocean Rim and island nations in the Indian Ocean. Besides, China is now vigorously pursuing implementation of the '21st Century Maritime Silk Road' and is trying to simultaneously develop its overland connectivity with the West and Central Asian countries by reviving the ancient Silk Roads (new Silk Road Economic Belt) in order to curtail its dependence on ocean routes.
As a consequence of the above, Bangladesh's geopolitical significance has substantially increased in recent times for China, India as well as for the US. Against that backdrop, we are witnessing increased interest of these countries to expand and deepen their bilateral relations with Bangladesh. All the three countries are very important development partners of Bangladesh and she highly values her relationship with each of them. While Bangladesh should continue to further bolster its cooperative relations with each of them for mutual benefit, she should gingerly balance her ties with them and avert entering the geopolitical orbit of any of them, in order to avoid undermining her relations with either of the other two as well as to be sure she is not getting unnecessarily embroiled in others' disputes and rivalry.
Bangladesh should build up its bilateral ties with China, India and the US from a non-aligned standpoint and in such a way so that her relations with each of these countries prove significantly beneficial to her and they find in Bangladesh a useful partner-in-development. By casting her dices with tact and acumen and keeping her national interests above all internal domestic political divisiveness, Bangladesh can make use of the commonality of those countries' good relations with and goodwill for her to her advantage.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary.