China Warns of ‘Damage’ to Bilateral Ties, if Bangladesh Joins Quad Initiatives

By Jesmin Papri and Kamran Reza Chowdhury on May 10, 2021 Benar News

Ties between Bangladesh and China could be “substantially damaged” if the South Asian country joins any initiative launched by the Quad alliance, Beijing’s envoy to Dhaka told reporters on Monday.

Bangladesh will gain nothing by participating in efforts by the Quad, Chinese Ambassador Li Jiming said, as member countries of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue woo Dhaka to be part of their Indo-Pacific efforts.

“Bilateral relations with Bangladesh would be substantially damaged if it joins hand with [Quad] initiatives,”  Li said in response to reporters’ questions about the group comprising the United States, Japan, Australia and India.

“It is not wise to ponder over joining [initiatives] with such a small group or club. [The Quad] is a narrow-purposed geopolitical clique, and Bangladesh should not join it, since it will not derive any benefit from it,” he added.

Li’s comments partially corroborate what Chinese state media reported about Defense Minister Wei Fenghe’s talks with Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid on April 27.

According to the Xinhua news agency, Wei told Hamid that Beijing and Dhaka must make “joint efforts against powers outside the region setting up a military alliance in South Asia.”

Wei raised the issue of the Quad during his talks with Hamid, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told BenarNews. A Bangladesh official who attended the Wei-Hamid meeting, but who was not authorized to speak to the media, said Hamid did not talk about the Quad.

“Defense Minister Wei seemed displeased at the formation of the Quad. The honorable president listened patiently, but he did not utter a single word about the Quad,” the official told BenarNews.

Beijing’s warning came after the Quad, at a virtual meeting in March, agreed to deliver 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines to Indo-Pacific nations by 2022, a move that analysts said was a perfect counterpoint to China’s so-called vaccine diplomacy.

Analysts also said it was a big step in countering China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, Beijing’s geopolitical program to build a modern-day Silk Road through a network of ports, railways, roads and trade routes to connect China to markets in Southeast Asia, South Asia and beyond.

Bangladesh is among countries that China is targeting under OBOR. In 2016, Beijing and Dhaka signed a memorandum under which China agreed to lend Bangladesh U.S. $25 billion tied to 27 Chinese-backed infrastructure projects.

And now, with the halt in COVID-19 supplies to Bangladesh from India, Dhaka is looking to Beijing to fill the vaccine gap. On Monday, Ambassador Li said China’s gift of 500,000 doses of Sinopharm’s coronavirus vaccine would reach Bangladesh on Wednesday.

The vaccine aid arrives “just in time,” Xinhua quoted Li as saying.

“[I]t is the latest outcome of China-Bangladesh anti-pandemic cooperation, which again shows that our two peoples are in the same boat, and we will stand with each other till the end of this battle,” he said.

Indo-Japanese efforts in Bangladesh

Meanwhile, India and Japan are working separately and together to finance infrastructure projects in Bangladesh, research organization Observer Research Foundation (ORF) noted in a brief in April.

“Increasingly, India is finding its space in Japan’s foreign policy frameworks such as … the Quadrilateral Initiative. … Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) and India’s Act East Policy… are complementary frameworks that create scope for the two countries to deepen their collaboration in the region,” the New Delhi-based ORF said.

“…The two countries have thus begun to collaborate in third countries: for instance, in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. In recent years, the bilateral partnership between India and Japan has expanded and they are pooling efforts in third countries in the context of their shared outlook towards the Indo-Pacific.”

New Delhi and Tokyo are already collaborating on two projects in Bangladesh – the Ramgarh-Baraiyarhat Highway and the Jamuna Railway Bridge, ORF said.

India and Japan are key “middle” powers in the Indo-Pacific, so infrastructure linkages in the region are significant vis-à-vis China, the research organization said.

“While the partnership is not overtly a step to supplement the many potential measures to counterbalance perceived apprehensions with regard to China’s growing footprint, it offers scope for smaller nations in the region to reduce their reliance on China and look to engage with other countries,” ORF said.

For Ambassador Li, the Quad is decidedly anti-China.

“China always maintains that the U.S.-led Quad is a minor anti-China initiative – a military alliance aimed against China’s resurgence and its relationship with neighboring countries,” Li said.

“It is a small club of four, and we all know what it is for – for China – and that is why Japan has joined hands with the U.S.”

In April, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the Quad was not aimed at one country. But after the group’s leaders met in March, he acknowledged that they “did discuss the challenge posed by China,” according to news reports.

As for Bangladesh, it hopes to reap benefits from both China and Quad nations, even as it walks a tightrope.

“We do not see any problem in joining any alliance in the world for peace and development. But we are not [interested] in a military alliance. According to our foreign policy, friendship with all is not enmity with anyone,” a senior foreign ministry official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, told BenarNews.

One analyst said Bangladesh needed to tread carefully.

“As an independent country, Bangladesh has the right to decide whether to join or not. But a friendly state like China cannot be ignored. So when China raises an objection, Bangladesh has to proceed cautiously,” Ehsanul Haque, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University, told BenarNews.

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