China’s unusual outburst against Bangladesh regarding the Quadrilateral security grouping raised quite a few eyebrows in South Block. This was clearly unprecedented because the Quad countries had recently talked of Quad+ but Bangladesh clearly did not make it to the list. What was further baffling was the fact that Bangladesh never even spoke either implicitly or explicitly of its intention to participate in the affairs of the Quad. Bangladesh is one of the most important allies of China in South Asia which provides it vital access to the rest of the region in terms of defence, communication, trade and in other sectors. This indeed signals a paradigmatic shift in the affairs of the South Asian region vis-à-vis Quad.
Message for New Delhi
New Delhi perhaps certainly did not have Bangladesh in mind to tackle the dragon in the Indo Pacific region. But this diplomatic blunder and the resultant angry reaction from Bangladesh reveals the fact that China is growing wary of the strength of the ‘Asian NATO’. The growing might of the alliance of democracies and their attempts to carve out an alternative multi polar world order based on a rules based conduct is surely making Beijing uncomfortable because it is aware that its Belt and Road (BRI) initiative is faltering and several nation states can see through the diabolical debt trap diplomacy that China is undertaking. Since New Delhi enjoys robust ties with Dhaka, hence enticing it in this grand alliance may not prove to be much of a difficulty.
New Delhi must not waste any time in warming up to Bangladesh to cash on this golden opportunity as Bangladesh could prove to a game-changing asset for India. New Delhi must understand that the stakes in this maritime diplomacy is very high and there is no time to waste. Bangladesh is a littoral state which possesses a long coastline which could prove to be very useful for India. India must make an overt diplomatic outreach to Dhaka highlighting the benefits of this alliance and the need to take on the dragon.
India must immediately activate its diplomatic assets and request Bangladesh that too much dependence on China will have a debilitating impact for the future of Dhaka. It could end up like the next Maldives or Djibouti who are reeling under Chinese debt. Further India must make sure that in the process Bangladesh’s core concerns are addressed. New Delhi must follow a nimble footed approach in order to bring Dhaka in this ‘Asian NATO’.
Implications for the Region
Bringing Bangladesh under the ambit of the Quad and fortifying it will have a lot of implications for South Asia-Firstly, it will change the very balance of power in the region. India could reclaim its position of the ‘enlightened magnus frater’ who would dominate the affairs of its backyard which it had lost in recent years thanks to India’s diplomatic blunders when it came to Nepal, Bangladesh etc. It will enable New Delhi to shape the region in a manner it deems fit as India now possesses both the economic and military strength it requires to undertake such a difficult exercise.
Secondly, it would signal the beginning of a new great game with its centre in Bangladesh. This great game would definitely push northwards the diplomacy involved. New Delhi, Beijing and other world powers could be expected to sweat it out try to invest in South Asian affairs which is interestingly one of the least integrated regions in the world.
Thirdly, it could potentially lead to the emergence of an India-centric global order marked by India leading the Quad against Beijing and its acolytes who will use every trick in the diplomatic book to outwit the Quad members.
Fourthly, it could signal the genuine revival of SAARC which has been in the ICU since 2016. SAARC could act as a key forum for spreading India centric diktats to the other powers involved in this region. India could very well emerge as the next big thing in global politics through this enticement of Bangladesh in the Quad.
Having contemplated all the possibilities of how bringing Bangladesh into Quad will entail for India it is necessary to understand the caveats that remain in place. China is the second largest country in the world in terms of economy, military strength and population and the Chinese wolf warriors will do everything that they can to prevent this from happening. One of the bigger worries is that Bangladesh must not become a new flashpoint in India-China ties which has received a setback due to China’s bellicose behavior in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.
China may very well activate its fake news propaganda empire to discredit India and the Quad as being anti- Chinese. China may rake up the ‘one hundred years of humiliation’ time period to justify its aggressive behavior. China may very well do some nuclear saber-rattling in order to deter India from pursuing this goal. However India must not budge from its objective. India must resolutely oppose and thwart Beijing’s evil designs in trying to dominate the region and must remain under constant vigil should the communist party of China decides to activate its armed forces against India.
The impact of the Sino-Bangla fallout has provided a great opportunity for the elephant to elevate its position in South Asia to new highs, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for regional integration and collaboration, India can very well undertake the journey of uniting the region under the Indian banner economically, socially and politically. However the mandarins of Indian foreign policy must be aware of the long term implications of this action. They must visit the diplomatic drawing board to understand how this step can help India fortify Quad and emerge as the new superpower which can rule the global roost without many adversaries. India therefore certainly possesses the power and resources to do so, the only question is- will India do it?
-The writer is currently working as a Trainee Research Associate at Defence Research and Studies (dras.in) and is a columnist. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda