Today, Bangladesh is the 44th nation worldwide, and the 12th in Asia, among 61 globally connected countries. Dhaka maintains 75 posts including 57 embassies and high commissions, 16 consulates/consulates-general and two permanent missions across all continents.
In comparison, the number of diplomatic posts is 276 for China, which has surpassed the United States having 273 such posts. This ranking, made in Global Diplomacy Index 2019, indicates Beijing's new priorities after 'Hide your strength, bide your time' days are gone. The two countries have equal number of embassies but China has kept operational 96 consulates/consulates-general compared to America's 88, according to the index prepared by Australia-based Lowy Institute.
Its lead researcher Bonnie Bley has observed that 'consulates facilitate economic cooperation between countries, whereas embassies nurture political relationships'. "China's network of overseas consulates can support the rollout of Beijing's economic ambitions… it has invested in its diplomatic infrastructure…," he says. The US position reflects President Donald Trump's lack of interests in retaining political hegemony unless it involves money.
Economic diplomacy has been a talking point in Dhaka's foreign policy pursuit. However, the 'Rules of Business' of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs encompass, "Promotion of cultural, economic, technical, trade and commerce, education and training of Bangladeshi citizens and officials and welfare of Bangladeshi expatriates."
Following a query about 'economic diplomacy' from this author, former Finance Minister AMA Muhith mentioned in his 2013-14 budget speech: "Our government has been laying emphasis on economic diplomacy, over and above, bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. Bangladesh has been making valuable contributions to the resolution of many issues being faced by the contemporary world by protecting its own interest. These include issues like trade and investment, migration and employment, energy security, meeting the adverse impact of climate change, setting sustainable post-MDG targets, economic governance of different international organisations and so on."
Bangladesh is struggling with more than one million Rohingya who were forced to leave their Myanmar homeland in 2017 and before. Global powers are not exerting enough pressure on Myanmar to take them back.
Thousands of Bangladeshi expatriates are leaving Malaysia, which is yet to withdraw restriction on hiring foreign workers. Many others are returning from the Middle East. Bangladeshi students and immigrant aspirants have to travel a third country for interview to go to some developed countries. Alternative markets for overseas jobseekers are far from being captured.
Bangladesh may lose its position to Vietnam as the second largest readymade garments exporter. Tariffs by importers and lack of bilateral free trade agreement are the issues that constrain the country's exports.
Bangladesh's global diplomatic position (44th) and its own posture do not fully match with the size of its economy - 39th biggest in gross domestic product rank with a high growth rate of 8.0 per cent - and the 8th largest population with more than 160 million people.
When explosion of technology and social media are making conventional notions obsolete, the country needs to redefine its discourses on how it shall present itself to the world. A highly motivated, knowledgeable army of diplomats, as an extension of domestic constituency, is relevant.
Article 25 of the constitution broadly contains the foreign policy: "The State shall base its international relations on the principles of respect for national sovereignty and equality, non interference in the internal affairs of other countries, peaceful settlement of international disputes, and respect for international law and the principles enunciated in the United Nations Charter."
Till date, major official literatures on diplomacy are yet to detail two widely used concepts - economic diplomacy and national interest.