Amid China’s hectic efforts to increase its footprints in Bangladesh through various infrastructure projects, Dhaka has assured New Delhi that it is cautious in terms of India’s security interests there. Diplomats accompanying Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momenl during his trip to Delhi are learnt to have communicated to their counterparts in New Delhi that the Hasina government is taking every care of India’s security and other interests amid Beijing’s massive outreach to Dhaka.
Sources told The Daily Guardian Review that during interactions with the Bangladeshi officials, Indian diplomats raised growing Chinese influence in Dhaka under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar and his Bangladeshi counterpart did not discuss the China factor in the bilateral ties but the officials of both the sides talked about it, sources said. “Diplomats from Dhaka assured their Indian counterparts that while allowing Chinese firms to operate for various projects in Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is taking every care to ensure that India’s interests don’t get affected due to this,” highly-placed sources said.
According to sources, the Hasina government rejected the proposal for a high-speed Dhaka-Chittagong railway line that China was eyeing to grab. What is also a welcome development is that Bangladesh rejected reports over links between the newly-built road bridge across Padma River and China’s multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative. Dhaka said that the country’s longest bridge was entirely financed by the government and no foreign funds were used in its construction.
Sources said that the Indian officials had referred to the reports of this project having been funded by China under BRI. “What is good for India-Bangladesh bilateral ties is that Dhaka is one of the few Muslim majority countries that did not officially lodge a protest with India over the remarks by the BJP politicians against Prophet Muhammad,” sources said. Information and Broadcasting Minister of Bangladesh Dr Hasan Mahmud has already said that the controversy around the derogatory references to the Prophet is India’s internal matter and the government in Dhaka need not respond to it.
What India cannot at the same time ignore is that China is currently the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh. Also, over half a dozen projects are said to be running under the BRI in Bangladesh. Diplomats in the team of visiting Bangladesh FM are understood to have told Indian officials that Bangladesh has learnt its lessons from Pakistan which is in a difficult situation due to heavy borrowing from China. Another case in mind is that of economic devastation of Sri Lanka attributable to Chinese debt among other factors.
At a meeting of the bilateral joint consultative commission, India and Bangladesh decided to deepen cooperation in various areas such as security, water resources, management of common rivers, sustainable trade, renewable energy, etc. Sources say that China must have followed the development closely, as New Delhi and Dhaka deepening security ties is also a message for China.
The opening remarks from Jaishankar were sufficient to trigger unease in China. Jaishankar said India looks forward to working with Bangladesh in new domains such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, start-ups and fintech. India will also expand cooperation for upgrading Bangladesh’s railway system, he said.