We have been surprised by a statement made by the Chinese ambassador to Bangladesh on Monday. The ambassador, while speaking at a virtual event with the members of Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (DCAB), said, quite expressly, that Bangladesh should not join the “Quad” initiative and Dhaka’s relations with Beijing will “substantially get damaged” if it does so. Quad, or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, is an informal strategic alliance among the US, India, Japan and Australia, formed apparently to counter China, militarily and diplomatically, in the South China Sea. The ambassador made no secret of his government’s distrust of the alliance. He termed it as a “narrow-purposed” geopolitical clique, intent on working against China’s resurgence and its relationship with neighbours. While we understand the Chinese objection to Quad and any potential move to expand the network, it is the ambassador’s opinion on what Bangladesh should do, or not, about it—and the manner in which he expressed it—that concerns us.
The Chinese seem to be worried about the possibility of Bangladesh joining the initiative—for what reason we don’t know yet. It is possible that the ambassador made the comment as a preemptive move, as the foreign minister has inferred in his reaction. Whatever the case might be, there should be no doubt that any decision in this regard rests squarely on the Bangladesh government. Countries may naturally have issues that need to be sorted out and the established practice to resolve them is through diplomatic engagement at state levels. It’s frustrating to see that instead of doing so, the ambassador chose to relay his concern on a public platform. While Chinese representatives are, of course, welcome to express their opinion, it shouldn’t extend to telling us what we can or cannot do as an independent nation. It’s undiplomatic, uncalled-for and, therefore, unacceptable. We also don’t think this issue should have any bearing on the health of Bangladesh-China relations.
Of course, the two countries have long enjoyed warm and friendly bilateral relations. Only recently, the government approved the emergency use of China’s Sinopharm vaccine to tackle the surge in Covid-19 infections in Bangladesh, and its first shipment should be available anytime soon. We appreciate the Chinese gesture to help us at this most crucial time. But in terms of foreign policy, we must reiterate the foreign minister’s comment that Bangladesh maintains a non-aligned and balanced foreign policy, and will decide what to do according to those principles. That applies to any likely decision on Quad as well.