US needs to focus on Bangladesh to counter China: Analysis

Prothom Alo English Desk | Update:

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo meets with Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on 28 September 2018. -- Photo: US state departmentBangladesh may not be a major destination for US exports and has not caught president Donald Trump’s eye for “stealing” American jobs, according to an article that appeared in a number of outlets.

But, the article insists, Bangladesh’s success in striding toward economic prosperity, containing the spread of terrorism, and protecting Rohingya refugees from untold atrocities should inspire US policymakers to recalibrate their Bangladesh policy.

“Bangladesh is one of those countries that should receive attention from Washington but typically do not,” writes Arafat Kabir in the article published among others by The Wall Street Journal and The Diplomat.

However, the author has pointed out some changes. Last month, he mentioned, the US House foreign affairs committee called upon secretary of state Mike Pompeo to demonstrate America’s “continued commitment to and respect for democratic institutions [in Asia], beginning with Bangladesh.”

Representative Eliot Engel, the committee chairman, penned the letter along with five colleagues in which he expressed dismay at the “negative trajectory of democracy” in a country that used to be known for its fragile but boisterous democracy, added the article.

Quoting Eliot Engel, it explained, Bangladesh’s 30 December elections point to concerning trend of consolidation of power by the ruling Awami League and raise fears of a de facto one-party state.

“If Americans are fed up with their own growing partisanship, they should find some solace by looking at Bangladesh,” reads the article.

Referring to Dhaka’s policy of giving shelter to one million Rohingyas who fled Myanmar atrocities, the author maintained that the United States cannot but take a greater interest in Bangladesh.

Emphasising long-term strategies to be devised by the United States being the single largest market for Bangladesh exports, to boost bilateral trade, the author recommended more incentives from Washington, such as duty-free access to Bangladeshi products.

“Unlike some of its neighbours, Bangladesh has yet to capitulate to what amounts to be China’s checkbook diplomacy,” the article said adding that the US should increase investment in Bangladesh. “...doing so would provide Washington with the opportunity to not only gain a stronger foothold but also counter China’s omnipresence in South Asia.”

It pointed out that given Bangladesh’s record in fighting and vulnerability to international terrorism and the country’s geostrategic location, it is imperative for Washington to beef up security cooperation with Bangladesh, a point that Davidson echoed in his deposition.

The article titled ‘Time for the US to Stop Ignoring Bangladesh’ said Washington should ramp up political efforts so that Myanmar feels compelled to put an end to the ongoing Rohingya crisis.

“Reaping long-term gains becomes easier when two democracies invest in a relationship that is based on mutual trust and respect for international institutions, open markets, and human rights,” wrote the author.

Therefore, he suggested, the Trump administration should encourage Bangladesh to stick to democratic principles and institutions as part of its increased engagement.

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