Bangladesh between Sino-Indian Friction in South Asia
Bangladesh's trade and commerce ministry should focus on the trade deficit. Specifically, it must change its submissive attitudes towards India and China.
Right now, Bangladesh exports $1.1 bln of goods to India and China, but the country imports more than $15 bln goods yearly. That's a huge trade deficit. By developing their trade policies, Sri Lanka and Bhutan curbed down their trade deficit both with India and China. Also, Nepal has shown a great result dealing with China, although dealing with India is dissatisfactory.
We must address this economic issue with delicate diplomacy. Recently, China has committed $24 bln for infrastructural development in Bangladesh. On the other hand, India has promised something to the tune of $2 bln and a coal-based power plant in the environmentally critical area of Sundarban - an UNESCO declared site for natural conservation.
Bangladesh's land area is surrounded by the Indian border, where Indian border guards kill 150-200 Bengalis annually, and we are still friendly neighbors. As many other places in the world, India and Bangladesh have critical disputes. Some of them are solved diplomatically and some of them are under tireless negotiations. For example, in September 2011, the two countries signed a major accord on border demarcation to end the 4-decade old disputes over boundaries. Still now, Bangladesh is not getting a fair, rational and necessary share of the Ganges water. Bangladesh observes that during the dry season India releases very little amount of water and it gets flooded when India releases excess waters in monsoon season when we don't need water.
Another achievement of Bangladesh's diplomacy is the Bay of Bengal sea water settlement with India. Teesta is now a dried and dead river for Indian policy. And river water sharing is another big issue between India and Bangladesh. For decades, it has been exerting huge economic and environmental impact since the Bangladeshi population lives on agriculture by natural irrigation.
We don't have any history of hostilities with the Chinese. China is also very close to Bangladesh, but the Himalayas create enormous natural barriers. Since China is becoming a global player and has put forth the grand design of the One Belt One Road Initiative and Maritime Silk Route, this puts Bangladesh as a necessary strategic hub for connecting South Asia with South East Asia.
India appears disturbed and worried by such a Chinese step towards Bangladesh because in that way, China can put geopolitical pressure on India from Pakistan, China's old friend and from the would-be friend Bangladesh. One from the West and the other from the East.
Since the US is siding with India, the South Asian geopolitical game will soon take new shapes and forms. Already, the Af-Pak region, Kashmir, Arunachal, the Dalailama, terrorism and many issues are coming up as disputes between US-led India and China.
Bangladesh will not be a safe place if the crisis between India and China escalates. The flame of unconventional warfare will also severely damage Bangladesh if the country is not prepared for inevitable scenarios.
Both China and India have increased their military spending. Though India's budget is 50% of that of the Chinese, it has the strongest military power, the US, as her ally. Proxy war could turn out to be a nuclear, all-out war in South Asia.
Physically, however, Bangladesh will not be a war party, but she must take defensive measures to protect her ethnic Bengali population and their nation of Bangladesh. In order to confront the upcoming situation, Bangladesh must take measures from at least four directions.
Economically, Bangladesh must curb down its trade deficit by facilitating and attracting local production. Since the country has enormous manpower, she should buy the technology, not the products. In such a manner, 50% of the trade deficit should be curtailed to promote heavy and small industries. We also find more space in bilateral relations.
Militarily, Bangladesh must increase her defense spending. Recently, Bangladesh has bought two submarines for its navy from China. Though primarily they are being used as training and sea security purposes for Bangladesh Navy, India has expressed concern. India must remember that Bangladesh doesn't consider India an enemy state. Even though it is a Muslim-populated country, it is not part of Pakistan. As a sovereign nation defending the world's third largest ethnicity, Bangladesh should outsource hi-tech weaponry from countries like Russia, Turkey, Germany, and Belgium to diversify her defense mechanisms. For example, Bangladesh can buy five sets of S-400 surface to air missile system to thwart any aerial threat including nuclear missiles. Those systems will keep the sky of Bengal safe for at least ten years. Bangladesh should strengthen her naval forces as well to keep the water safe from pirates or unlawful intruders. The country has a long history of ship making and breaking. She must make enough gunships and destroyers to support international navigation of yearly 5 trillion. Electronic warfare will be the next game changer of any war theater, as we have been observing it in the civil war in Ukraine and in the wars in Syria and Iraq. We must develop our indigenous but hi-end technology. Since the world is leaning more towards hybrid proxy wars, Bangladesh's military should enhance and upgrade guerrilla tactics.
Geopolitically, the country must walk on the balance beam when she deals with both simultaneously.
She should clearly understand the state ideologies of regional powers, but take a stance of distinctive pragmatism. Bangladesh knows very well that Indian regional policy towards her is very influential. India has a certain cultural-political-economic base from the very birth of Bangladesh since India politically and militarily backed the liberation war of Bangladesh. On the contrary China didn't give Bangladesh recognition as a new country until 1975, after four years of Bangladesh's independence. Also, Bangladesh should be very careful about Indian red lines. For example, Bangladesh should not give any space to any country to destabilize the Indian seven sisters. She must deter such existential threats.
Culturally, we should curb down the practices of liberal philosophy such as secularism, feminism, and LGBT. Liberal philosophy is dying worldwide because of its unsustainable nature and individualism. Bangladesh must be very careful regarding such philosophical practices by the NGO’s, as the West has used this philosophy to tear apart social harmony and install chaos and instability where a people loses its sense of humanity as a collective entity.
If Bangladesh can take such steps pragmatically, she would be capable of creating a confident, self-determined, and enormous power-emanating entity in the coming future ranking among the top in the region within decades. The people and the nation must know that in 1971 a country was born after a horrific bloodbath, and that country must fight until her last blood to keep the land of Bengal - the land of the 4000-years-old Bengali ethnic group - safe from evil conspirators.