Diplomatic sources in Dhaka and Washington told Prothom Alo that the US had briefed Bangladesh about the basic theme of the new economic alliance three months before its formation. An official of White House also handed over an informal draft of the IPEF to Bangladesh.

US ambassador in Bangladesh, Peter Haas, said they have been in talks with Bangladesh since March. His country expects Bangladesh to join this platform soon.

US President Joe Biden, during his Japan trip on 23 May, officially announced the launching of IPEF with 12 nations on board initially. According to a White House press release, Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam have joined the US-led IPEF.

Asked about the issue, foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen said, “We will assess the issue during discussions with the stakeholders. There is nothing about joining or not joining. It is not like an invitation card. They announced IPEF. They (US) are trying to assess the response. This is why we also have to understand the issue."

The conflict between the US and China centering the Indo-Pacific has been obvious in the last few years. It came to the limelight during the race of two the world powers over vaccine diplomacy during the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The IPEF added a new dimension to the tension triggered by China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS). The reaction of Chinese diplomats in Dhaka and Beijing made it clear that they once again are concerned by the US initiative.

The diplomatic sources said Bangladesh adopted a policy of taking time over the issue of joining IPEF. China has developed multi-faceted ties with Bangladesh over the last several years, by funding and assisting different mega projects, including the Padma Bridge. It has also been involved in Bangladesh defence sector for long.

On the flip side, bilateral relations with the US are multi-dimensional, but US investment in Bangladesh is limited to the energy sector. And there is also the the obvious lack of understanding with the US over the sanctions on RAB. Therefore, Bangladesh finds it wise to take some time before making a final decision on joining IPEF.

Draft three months before announcement

Bangladesh ambassador to the US M Shahidul Islam held a meeting with the senior director for South Asia at the US National Security Council, Sumona Guha, on 17 February as part of the preparation to celebrate 50 years of Bangladesh-US diplomatic ties. Officials of US departments of state and commerce also joined the event, in addition to the White House staff.

The diplomatic sources told Prothom Alo that the US officials had briefed the Bangladeshi officials about the IPEF and handed over a six-page draft of the new alliance. The Bangladesh ambassador then assured Sumana Guha of sending the draft to Dhaka.

Shahidul Haque, former foreign secretary and Bangabandhu fellow at Delhi University, said the US has been expressing its interest in getting Bangladesh in the IPEF for several months. When a senior official of the US National Security Council discusses an issue in detail with a representative of Bangladesh, it indicates the aspirations of their highest political quarters. Therefore, it is important to take a decision in keeping with reality and the interests of the country.