Advising Bangladesh not to join the QUAD, Chinese Ambassador to Dhaka Li Ji-ming said in a virtual discussion with DCAB on May 10, 2021, "Bangladesh's decision to join the anti-China alliance will harm bilateral relations." The United States-led alliance Quadrilateral Security Dialogue known as QUAD includes India, Japan and Australia as its allies.
The Chinese ambassador further said, "I know the QUAD was formed deliberating over China. Japan has already made it very clear that it is taking part in this US-led alliance because of China, and that is why China does not want to see Bangladesh in such an alliance". At the end of April 2021, Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Feng visited Dhaka. He also said that China and Bangladesh should work together to ensure that no external power could create hegemony in the region. China's relation with the region goes long before its inception. Bangladesh's ongoing development work in collaboration with China is much more than that of India, Japan, Australia and even the United States. China is our main partner in the country's development but they do never waste their time talking about the country's politics, nor they interfere in its internal affairs. China's foreign policy is very transparent and neutral in this regard; they are our most effective and real friend with economic development activities.
On the other hand, Bangladesh's foreign policy too is neutral and transparent. "Friendship with all" in line with non-align policy is the significant feature of Bangladesh's foreign policy; so, there is no feasibility to join any military alliance. As such, definitely Bangladesh will not join the alliance against any country; so, there is no reason for China to be worried about its policy, Bangladesh is always quite alert and careful in this regard. Bangladesh's foreign policy is "neutral and balanced", and in the light of which Bangladesh takes every decision.
Munshi Fayez Ahmed, the former ambassador of Bangladesh to China, has given a very good explanation in this regard saying that no one from the four countries has publicly called on Bangladesh to join the QUAD so far, though we do not know whether or not clandestinely some parties tried to do that, there might be some efforts. But Bangladesh did not show any inclination either. He added further that there might be some parties who convinced Chinese ambassador that Bangladesh was considering to join the QUAD, based on which he alerted Bangladesh. Since China is a tested and trusted friend of Bangladesh, bearing Bangladesh's welfare in their mind, they advised Bangladesh in advance which should be considered a good suggestion for it.
Furthermore, it is very clear that the alliance was formed to curb China's diplomatic, political and economic influence, and subsequently it came up with an Indo-Pacific strategy as not too many countries showed their interest in it. There is no bar for Bangladesh to join Indo-Pacific strategy for its socio-economic development but it definitely will not it join any military alliance.
All these we have to make understandable to China. In the meantime, no one should come up with any negative comment against the statement of Chinese ambassador and, making no fuss, Bangladesh should simply clarify its stand against the assumption of China.
There is a good reason for China to be worried about the QUAD which was formed to resist China and their advancement, but Bangladesh will never join this alliance, as mentioned earlier. So China, the good friend of Bangladesh, should not be worried at all.
China is always a well-wisher of Bangladesh; and is a big partner in every development programme of ours. So, rationally it should be a well-thought decision of Chinese government to prevent Bangladesh from joining the QUAD, otherwise the ambassador would not have spoken to advise Bangladesh in that tone. Chinese Defense Minister General Wai Feng Yi had already informed the Bangladesh government about the issue diplomatically during his visit to Dhaka, despite all these China still thinks that Bangladesh is playing a positive role in the QUAD issue.
It is a general diplomatic norm that any issue has to be reported from one government to the other which China has naively handled. It can be termed a political strategy that the Chinese ambassador did to create political pressure; it is important for our political parties to play a role in preventing Bangladesh from joining the QUAD. The pro-China political parties have to come forward in this regard. It is not unusual for China to be concerned if Bangladesh joins the QUAD which is an alliance of major powers in cooperation with India, a US initiative to resist China, but the question is: why did the Chinese ambassador talk about it? Usually the Chinese ambassador does not speak on his own. He speaks only when it is approved from the highest level of administration or given the responsibility to speak.
So, it is clear that China is really concerned about the issue, and when it failed to resolve the issue diplomatically, only then the ambassador made it public with the intention of exerting political pressure. Socially, too, those of us who see the country benefiting from China's cooperation should also think about it. In the meantime, our civil society as well should play a positive role.
Moreover, over the past few years, China has been quite vocal on various issues, and has been openly playing a role in many international issues; so, it has spoken directly about the issue - and there is nothing wrong with that, for the sake of the country, we have to accept things as easy.
Bangladesh can join both the alliances led by the United States and China for the economic development of Bangladesh; we are currently joining the US-led Indo-Pacific Alliance, and the Chinese-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization. As such Bangladesh does not want to belong to any coalition - that is what it means. There is no room to think that we are under the control of America or China, if we join some organizations led by them. So, there should be no such reason for China to be concerned about Bangladesh joining the US-led Indo-Pacific Alliance.
Over the past few years, Bangladesh has been playing a balanced role in foreign policy, Bangladesh is always persistent for its own interest, various quarters and individuals have long been advising Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on numerous issues but she is deliberately doing what is needed for the prosperity of the country. The statement of the foreign minister in this regard is quite striking. He said: "we adhere to and maintain a neutral and balanced foreign policy".
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD, also known as the QUAD) began in 2007 among the leaders of the four countries, the United States, Japan, India, and Australia. To form this alliance, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe initiated it first in 2007, and then he was backed by US Vice President Dick Cheney, Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The type of alliance was "Inter-Governmental Security Forum". As China's economic and military strength continues to grow, so the agenda of the four countries should be the one based on this.
The United States, India, Australia and Japan are currently closely monitoring the situation and the perspective after the Chinese ambassador addressed Bangladesh. In a briefing on May 12, 2021, US State Department spokesman Ned Price, answering a question, said: "we are monitoring the statement made by the Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh". We respect the sovereignty of Bangladesh and at the same time, we respect their right to make decisions on its foreign policy by their own. Further he added that the United States had an incredible relationship with Bangladesh, and the two countries were working on a wide range of issues on a partnership basis, from economic growth to climate change. They decided to form the QUAD in the Indo-Pacific region. The QUAD is a non-partisan but important organization where the United States, India, Australia and Japan will work together to form a free and open Indo-Pacific region of like-minded democracies.
Meanwhile, China has clarified its position with Bangladesh on whether to join the QUAD or not. Recently, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Qinying said in a regular briefing that Bangladesh-China relations had been built on the principle of peaceful coexistence.
Reiterating the good relations, she said: "I want to make it clear that China and Bangladesh are very close neighbours; we have built our relationship based on the five principles of peaceful coexistence".
China-Bangladesh relations are very strong, old, and resilient; as an economic comrade, we have no alternative to China. It is China, which has challenged the United States as the world's political and economic leader, it already has repeatedly explained why it opposes the QUAD. So, for the sake of the continuation of the pace of development of Bangladesh, it would be wrong in every way to join the QUAD.
Abul Quasem Haider is Author and Founding Chairman, Eastern University, Islamic Finance and Investment Limited, Australian International School, Abul Quasem Haider Women's College, Sandwip, Chattogram, and Senate Member, University of Dhaka.