Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is slated to make a state visit India from 7-10 April. The visit comes after at least two postponements. The difficulty in getting the visit to take off is a far cry from the warmth and cordiality that was on display in words and deeds during Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Dhaka in June 2015.
Hasina’s reservations have to do with her fear of coming away from New Delhi without any agreement either on sharing the Teesta river waters or on constructing the Ganges Barrage on the Padma river at Pangsha near Rajbari. The agreement has fallen through multiple times during both the UPA tenure as well as during Modi’s visit and despite Dhaka agreeing to major India’s major demands of allowing transit of goods to Northeast both from Indian mainland overland through Bangladesh territory and by sea through the Bangladeshi ports of Chittagong and Mongla.
The coming state visit will be Hasina’s first in seven years to India and it might be useful to compare and contrast the progress in Dhaka’s ties with China – India’s principal challenger for Bangladesh’s affections – in the meantime. Read more
China-Bangladesh relations have progressed significantly over the years. China has been Bangladesh’s largest trading partner for several years now and is also increasingly a major investor in the country with commitments to various physical infrastructure projects ranging from bridges and railways to water and sewage treatment plants. After the World Bank withdrew from the project of building of a bridge over the River Padma in Bangladesh’s southwest, it is the Chinese that have agreed to step in.
There was little coverage of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh in June this year but it is worth noting that China sent Vice Premier Liu Yandong to Bangladesh in late May to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Bangladesh. Read more
South Asia impacts China’s security in several ways. Besides the boundary dispute with India and Bhutan, Nepal and India are destinations for Tibetan refugees while Afghanistan and Pakistan are sources of extremist influences in Xinjiang. Nepal is also politically unstable which creates opportunities for Beijing – which has traditionally played second fiddle to New Delhi – to parlay its influence. Pakistan – where China’s influence has been historically strong – however, is at the other end of the spectrum. Domestic instability has reduced the scope of what China might achieve in and through Pakistan and military-to-military cooperation remains the strongest leg on which the relationship stands, even as economic opportunities for Chinese companies have grown. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have swung between India and China but are increasingly now able to carefully balance their interests between the two. Read more
Presentation made at the British High Commission, New Delhi, 22 August 2013.
A. Developing countries, Duo
– ideological connect
- genuine Marxist feeling in the unity of the Third World
- minus the Maoist “you’re either with us or against us”
- coalition building
– common national interests
- anti-Western / non-Western
- international organizations
- energy security
B. China Solo Read more
This is an updated version of a presentation made at Session II: Strengthening Multi-modal Connectivity, 11th BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar) Regional Cooperation Forum, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 24 February 2013.
The objective of this presentation is to draw some lessons for the implementation of physical connectivity infrastructure projects in underdeveloped areas within the BCIM sub-region using experiences from some ongoing infrastructure projects in the region.
1. Objectives of Connectivity
At the outset it is important to define what physical connectivity will achieve. ‘Economic development’ is an objective, certainly but the expression can mean different things to different constituents. Ordinarily, better roads and improved telecom connectivity lead to increases in the volume of trade, the movement of labour and so on. However, in the absence of a rational policy on and/or management of border trade for example, better roads will only increase the volume of illegal/informal trade. This does not help the authorities in increasing revenues in the form of tax collections and therefore, in getting adequate returns on investments made in developing physical infrastructure. Read more
Presentation made in Session 5: Institutional Arrangements at the 10th Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) Regional Cooperation Forum, Kolkata, 19 February 2012.
There has been a constant debate between India and China about bringing the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) Regional Cooperation Forum up to the full Track-1 level. There is the example of the Russia-India-China Track-2 dialogue that has a parallel Track-1 process starting with meetings of the three foreign ministers and later followed by regular meetings of the heads of government. This was no doubt inspired also by the post-9/11 scenario of unilateral US actions and the need for an alternative global order formulation. The point is that this can be done.
Today, the BCIM is in effect a Track-1.5 process, involving both scholars as well as officials even if the level of official participation varies from country to country. It is understood that for all the flexibility of the Track-2 mechanism, any real action is only possible if government officials are involved. But since the flexibility is useful, a case can be made for Track-1.5 plus Track-1 level interactions, so that governments have a role to play at all stages. Read more
Presentation made in Session 3: Regional Connectivity: Tourism, Transport & Infrastructure at the 10th Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Regional Cooperation Forum, Kolkata, 18 February 2012
Assam has the look of great reserves of strength and potential power…I have no doubt that great highways by road, air and rail will go across her connecting China and India, and ultimately connecting East Asia with Europe. Assam will then no longer be an isolated far away province but an important link
between the East and West.
after a visit to then undivided Assam, December 1945
Nearly 70 years later – including over 10 years of the BCIM initiative – regional connectivity has little to show by way of progress. There is an almost never-ceasing flow of ideas, as well there should be, in a sub-region with a long history of cultural and economic connections. But despite the end of the Cold War and the rapid expansion of regionalism the world over, including in the immediate neighbourhood in the form of various ASEAN mechanisms and the SCO, the BCIM sub-region seems caught in a time warp of sorts. Why is this the case?
One part of the answer might lie in other regional mechanism that neighbours the BCIM initiative, namely, SAARC. With the South Asian grouping still moribund, let us face it – the infection that ails the BCIM process is of Indian subcontinental origins. The connectivity “gaps” in the BCIM sub-region extend to 4 major areas: population movement, transport infrastructure, communications infrastructure and development infrastructure.
One of the more striking images of the 2008 earthquake in China was of a Japanese destroyer steaming into a Chinese port as part of a relief mission, the first such instance since the end of World War II. The Chinese were quick to reciprocate with a similar offer of aid following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Disaster relief operations as an opportunity to engage in diplomacy is not a new phenomenon but seems certainly to have picked up pace in recent years, particularly in Asia, where disasters are frequent and more often than not are accompanied by heavy losses to life and property.
Original Presentation: “Disaster Relief: Politics, Security Implications and Foreign Policy,” 4th Berlin Conference on Asian Security 2009, 28-30 October 2009, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP, Berlin).
This essay highlights some key characteristics of disaster relief operations in Asia, with a particular focus on the southern Asian region. The thrust of the paper is not so much at the mechanics of disaster relief as at the politics of disaster relief. That there is clearly politics – foreign policy interests and domestic factors of both donor and recipient nations – involved in humanitarian relief and assistance has been well documented. In Asia certainly, as important as the aid itself is, is who provides it and how. As a continent of mostly developing countries it is inevitable that disaster-struck nations often find themselves short of the capacity required to deal with the aftermath. What capacity exists is usually state capacity, often acting through the agent of military forces rather than adequate civilian response. Often, there is foreign military support required as also the resources and capabilities of international NGOs (INGOs).
Beginning with a brief exercise in defining what constitutes disasters, the essay draws attention to three key factors affecting disaster relief operation in Asia – prestige or image issues, security implications and foreign policy goals.
Defining Disasters in Asia