Global Foreign Policy In Context Of India-China-US Complex – OpEd


Ever since the people of the world learned the need for homogeneity –be it cultural, linguistic, religious, or tribal of for the necessity to band together and felt the need to acknowledge the existence of a world beyond their own diplomacy has been playing a role either as a friend or foe. It is argued that regardless of the size or the economic strength of a country practice of democracy remains the pillar of cohesion. Throughout history, the definition has changed in line with the existing situation. Plato argued that democracy was inferior to various forms of monarchy, aristocracy, and even oligarchy on the grounds that democracy tends to undermine the expertise necessary to properly govern societies. In a democracy, he argues, those who are experts at winning elections and nothing else will eventually dominate democratic politics. Democracy tends to emphasize this expertise at the expense of the expertise that is necessary to properly govern societies. The reason for this is that most people do not have the kinds of talents that enable them. ( STANFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY). 

Modern practice of diplomacy puts emphasis on democracy as the binding force of diplomacy. John Stuart Mill argued that a democratic method of making legislation is better than non-democratic methods in three ways: strategically, epistemically, and via the improvement of the characters of democratic citizens. Strategically, democracy has an advantage because it forces decision-makers to take into account the interests, rights, and opinions of most people in society. Since democracy gives some political power to each, more people are taken into account than under aristocracy or monarchy. The most forceful contemporary statement of this instrumental argument is provided by Amartya Sen, who argued, for example, that “no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent country with a democratic form of government and a relatively free press” . The basis of this argument is that politicians in a multiparty democracy with free elections and a free press have incentives to respond to the expressions of needs of the poor.


 A contrary argument is given by China’s XI Jin Ping who argues that a totalitarian system is better able to deliver 2 goods to the people than a democratic system is. The foreign debt of China, by June 2015, stood at around US$ 1.68 trillion. China’s debt has grown dramatically over the past decade and is one of the biggest economic challenges confronting the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which turns 100 this week. Beijing identified the ballooning debt pile as a potential threat to economic stability, and in recent years tried to reduce the country’s reliance on debt for growth. But that deleveraging effort came to a pause for much of last year due to COVID-19 (JUNE 2021). This foray into the Chinese economy is for two reasons: firstly is because of Bangladesh’s position in South Asia has only a 145-kilometer boundary with Myanmar (bedeviled by the Rohingya crisis) and the Bay of Bengal. 

On all sides, Bangladesh is dependent on India. Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia. Bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh has grown steadily over the last decade. India’s exports to Bangladesh in FY 2018-19 stood at $9.21 billion and imports during the same period were at $1.04 billion. The Indian economy expanded 4.1% year-on-year in the first three months of 2022, slightly higher than market forecasts of 4%, but due to rising Omicron infections, elevated energy prices, and ongoing supply chain constraints. On the consumption side, household spending slowed sharply and both export and import growth also eased. In contrast, government spending increased more, and gross fixed capital formation accelerated. Considering the fiscal year ended in March 2022, the economy advanced 8.7%. Reserve Bank of India estimates the GDP growth rate for FY 2023 at 7.2%. Exports to Bangladesh in China decreased. Bangladesh is the world’s second-biggest apparel exporter after China. Garments including knitwear and hosiery account for 80% of export revenue; others include: jute goods, home textiles, footwear, and frozen shrimp and fish. 

The bilateral trade between Bangladesh and China has increased significantly in recent years. Bangladesh has been suffering from historic trade imbalances with China since its economic relationship after 1974. This trade deficit makes Bangladesh dependent on China and raises serious concerns about the economic and financial impact. For increasing exports to China could lead to a decrease in trade deficits. Bangladesh needs to ensure access to the Chinese market. . This step of sincere and active cooperation between the two countries is considered significant enough to reduce the trade deficit. An Indian foreign policy expert Brahamy Chellany (China’s Debt-Trap Diplomacy Jan 23, 2017,  AND NO LESS DONALD TRUMP’S VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE) WARNED THE EMERGING ECONOMIES OF CHINESE DEBT TRAP POLICY. Through its $1 trillion “One Belt, One Road” initiative, China is supporting infrastructure projects in strategically located developing countries, often by extending huge loans to their governments. As a result, some of these countries are becoming saddled with debt, leaving them even more firmly under China’s thumb. Some contrary opinions have been sounded in favor of Chinese loans due to unemployment in those countries and the rising cost of essentials.

The people in those countries are pressing their governments to accept Chinese loans that would provide employment and fund infrastructure for which the host country lacks money. Bangladesh is no exception. Sheikh Hasina’s official visit to China ( July 2019) seemingly succeeded in bolstering ties between the countries. The two countries expressed interest in accelerating the work related to the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM EC) project, an initiative aimed at expanding the economic ties of the four countries that together are home to nearly 3 billion people. Bangladesh and China turned their relationship into a strategic partnership in 2016, and, in recent years, Chinese investment in the South Asian country has risen rapidly. As part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing and Dhaka signed deals worth $21.5 billion covering a raft of power and infrastructure projects. To date, pledged BRI-related investment in Bangladesh stands at around $38 billion. China has pumped more money into Bangladesh than any other country over the past couple of years. China alone accounts for almost a third of this investment, worth over $1 billion. And China’s Exim Bank is providing $3 billion for the construction of the rail link accompanying the bridge. It prompts countries like Japan and India to also come forward and invest. Bangladesh has announced an ambitious plan to set up 100 special economic zones by 2030. Many Chinese companies appear interested in investing in these zones. 

The question, apart from Indian discomfiture, Bangladesh has to take into consideration whether democracy as a way of life should be abandoned because of XI-Ji-Ping’s promise of quick delivery as he and CCP are able to deliver the goods needed by the people.  Analysts state that unless equality is shared among citizens in law and policy there may be substantial and conscientious disagreement among them. The basic facts are that individuals are very diverse in terms of their interests. People’s interests are diverse because of their different natural talents because they are raised in different sectors of society, and because they are raised in societies where there is a diversity of cultural backgrounds. Partly as a consequence of the fact that people are raised in different sectors of society and in distinct cultural milieus, they are likely to have deep cognitive biases when they attempt to understand other people’s interests and how they are compared to their own interests. The question that has to be answered is whether the West now allied with the European Union and other freedom-loving countries is to be jettisoned in favor of an authoritarian system that promises quick results but no dissention in policy making. Apart from ideological differences, Bangladesh risks being isolated from the West whose assistance is needed at every step of the way. It can, be argued that close relations with China do not have to be at the cost of relations with the West. 

BANGLADESH was created mainly because Urdu and Bengali were separate languages and had separate scripts. The languages were so different that one could not the read or write the other. But then politico-economic reasons were there too. Bangladesh felt that this part of the country was being milked for the benefit of the other. Then again linguistic differences are not uncommon in different countries of the world. There are 22 major languages in India, written in 13 different scripts, with over 720 dialects. The official Indian languages are Hindi (with approximately 420 million speakers) and English, which is also widely spoken. In addition, several states in India have their 5 own official languages, which are usually only spoken in particular areas. As per the 2011 Census of India, the languages with the highest number of speakers are as follows: Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati, Urdu, Kannada, Odia, and Malayalam. 22 languages are accepted by the Indian Constitution. In Belgium, the spoken languages are—French and Dutch. In short differences in languages do not constitute a government or a state. 

Nor does ethnicity. What makes a nation then? Britannica defines a nation-state as a territorially bounded sovereign polity—i.e., a state —that is ruled in the name of a community of citizens who identify themselves as a nation. The legitimacy of a nation-state’s rule over a territory and over the population inhabiting it stems from the right of a core national group within the state (which may include all or only some of its citizens) to self-determination. So why religion was the main determinant in the Partition of British ruled Indian sub-continent? What caused was the predominance of Hindus over the Muslim population in India? Was the political ambition of the leaders of the Indian Congress Party and the Muslim League? Govt of India made the first Census in 1951 when India’s her population was 36,10,88,000 an increase of 13.31% in Ten years or an average increase of 1.33126 % per year or 2.986 % between 1941 and 1947. Muslim population was considerably less than the Hindu population leading to a conclusion that Muslims would always be under the rule of Hindus. Congress Party leader Man Shankar Ayar (It was not Nehru who cut Jinnah’s chances of becoming PM—August 17, 2020) opined that “since almost the morrow of Muslim League’s resolution of March 23 1940 the Congress had been attempting to persuade Jinnah and his League not to press for Pakistan. Instead, Mohammed Ali Jinnah told the press, that Mahatma Gandhi’s conception of Independent India WAS basically different from THAT OF the Muslim League.

Given this background of two divisions- the Muslim League and Congress- the division of British India had already been decided.  It is debatable: what factors led to  Narendra Modi’s Victory in the elections: is it his muscularity vis-à-vis China and Pakistan or the benefits the common people got from his domestic reforms or was it his Hindutva philosophy which he has been preaching as a “ pracharak” from his young age or the amalgamation of all these factors. Shashi Tharoor, Congress Party leader, explains that Hinduism is a rich religion brimming with multifariousness. As opposed to the Semitic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the most well-known faiths in the Western world have some beliefs in common: every one of the three, for instance, accepts that there’s just a single God and that he’s an existent and immaterial being. A genuine devotee must acknowledge that basic tenet. Hinduism, with regard to the mentioned tenet, is a totally contrasting religion. In opposition to their monotheistic partners, Hindus affirm the existence of several divine beings. That makes Hinduism a profoundly individual-specific faith that differs from one adherent to another”. In other words, Hindus are freezers than others in the choice of their God. 

The present scenario of slaughtering beef-eating Muslims and the anti-Muslim riots being read and seen on television screens give another picture. Communal fault lines are not new in the country. When India was partitioned in 1947 — leading to the creation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan — tens of millions of Muslims chose a secular India as their homeland; they were betting on a more promising future in a country that enshrined religious equality into its constitution. But Hindu nationalists have long claimed a greater moral right over the nation and have questioned the patriotism of Indian Muslims. And the prejudice is no longer just rhetorical. It has turned into violent hatred that has spilled onto the streets of the country. The shift in India’s attitude towards Muslims has been there for centuries ever since the Muslims started invading India. This is the first time that the Hindu population has voted BJP as a single majority political party with a group of people capable and willing to implement an anti-Muslim agenda.

Such activities are in violation of the Constitution contrary to the oath taken by the Council of Ministers, and harmful to the image of India carved out by the predecessors are of little importance when President Trump at the Allahabad meeting termed it as the internal affairs of India. Indian Congress Party leader Sashi Tharoor in his book Why I am a Hindu writes “In 1989, the BJP adopted Hindutva as its official ideology. The BJP or Indian People’s Party has been ruling since 2014. From the beginning of their assuming of power, the nation has seen a flare-up of insularity that would’ve been incomprehensible to its Hindu ancestors. The BJP is focused on Hindutva, signifying “Hinduness.” Tharoor traced the thought to a previously developed one of the mid-twentieth century by Vinayak Savarkar, a government official, and essayist who promoted the idea of Hinduness with his 1923 book Essentials of Hindutva. Savarkar’s seminar in Hindu patriotism asserted that Hindus were the earliest occupants of India. That, he surmised, implied that India was by definition the place of habitation of the Hindus – a controversial move which right away proscribed other different religious faiths from Savarkar’s idea of citizenship. A Muslim may live inside the nation’s physical territory, yet he wasn’t genuinely Indian since he didn’t partake in or identify with Hindu culture. That makes the BJP a great deal like a fundamentalist crusade. In a recent speech, Indian Foreign Minister Jaya Shankar described the West’s policy as the Goldilocks principle by saying that the West didn’t want India to get too weak nor did it want India to get too strong. When India in 1962 after the conflict with China where India was defeated the West came to the assistance of India.  But in less than a decade in 1971 when it seemed India Western needed that support was not forthcoming. 

 Way back in 2019, Donald Trump (not yet elected President) paid a visit to China. After the visit, he released a press note which in part said “China and Russia want to shape a world antithetical to US values and interests. China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favor”. Trump during his Presidency followed a strong anti-China policy and often a transactional style of government that albeit had become a burden for Joe Biden though   Biden has not relaxed his anti-China rhetoric. Additionally, Trade tensions between China and the U.S. have escalated in recent years. While the two countries reached a so-called phase one trade agreement in January 2020, their differences have spilled over into technology and finance, leading to concerns that the two countries may be “decoupling”.

The term refers to a separation, rather than integration, of the world’s two largest economies in areas ranging from trade to technology. In the last one year after Biden became President, he has not changed Trump’s anti-China policy. The latest spat surrounded the visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to which China strongly objected. Biden’s explanation that the House of Representatives and the Senate function separately from the Executive Branch and one is independent of the other was totally rejected by China. Besides observers have noted China’s “aggressive” actions in the South China Sea, which has been a point of contention between Beijing and Washington. China claims most of the sea’s 1.4 million square miles as its own, despite a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that rejected those claims. Countries including the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also claim parts of the resource-rich sea. Recently President Joe Biden addressing the troops spoke of the threats posed globally but he assured them of the superiority of the US military strength throughout the world. Such assurance sidelines the age of multi-polarity that has already arrived. US suzerainty since the end of World War II does not exist anymore. 


One may recall President Biden’s statement of November 2020, “We need to be aligned with the other democracies so that we can set the rules of the road instead of having China and others dictate outcomes because they are the only game in town.” The problem may arise like the Thucydides Trap due to the inexperience of Xi-Jin Ping in dealing with the likes of the Cold War of the US-Soviet era when both parties knew when and how to deal with an adversary. One can only hope that the extinction of humanity would be avoided at any cost.

Ambassador Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a former Secretary and ambassador of Bangladesh

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