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US uses defense diplomacy to woo Bangladesh away from China

The Ronin

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Washington sees Dhaka as an 'emerging' ally in its Indo-Pacific strategy

DHAKA -- The U.S. has stepped up efforts to entice Bangladesh into buying more of its military hardware in recent weeks, as it hopes to win over an "emerging" ally in South Asia, where China has been expanding its economic influence.

In a rare outreach, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper earlier this month phoned Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who also oversees the Ministry of Defense, proposing to help the South Asian country modernize its military by 2030.

The two countries opened talks on the sale of advanced military gear such as Apache helicopters and missiles last year. A deal is believed to be in the cards, although no details have been revealed, with Laura Stone, a deputy assistant secretary with the U.S. Department of State, saying that Congress had not yet been "formally notified." Any deal will frustrate China, which is now the biggest supplier of cheaper defense equipment.


"We're looking to deepen our security cooperation with Bangladesh, which is very much of mutual interest, with full respect for Bangladesh's sovereignty and independence of action," Stone wrote in an email response to questions posed by the Nikkei Asian Review recently.

"We stand ready to serve as the partner of choice for Bangladesh regarding the sale of defense articles," said Stone, who oversees India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives at the State Department's South and Central Asian affairs desk.

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Bangladesh has been buying more arms from the U.S. since the 1990s, with purchases reaching $110 million in the 10 years through 2019. But that is dwarfed by the $2.59 billion it spent on military equipment from China since 2010, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Ali Riaz, distinguished professor of political science at Illinois State University, said that the timing of the phone call between the U.S. defense secretary and Bangladesh's prime minister was "very important" because of Dhaka's warming relations with Beijing.

Indeed, China's influence in Bangladesh goes beyond trade and infrastructure investment. After the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, China sent supplies, such as masks and gowns, and a medical team to Bangladesh, which conducted a Stage 3 trial of a vaccine developed by the privately owned Chinese company Sinovac Biotech.

Beijing recently lifted tariffs on 97% of Bangladesh imports after it secured a $250 million airport terminal construction contract in the northeastern city of Sylhet, which borders India.

Bangladesh is now trying to corral a $1 billion Chinese credit line to manage the Teesta River after a deal to share its water with India languished for years, mainly due to opposition from the state of West Bengal on the Indian side.

Bangladesh has been treading a fine line between India and China, but now Washington has taken a proactive approach.

"The Bangladesh government will have to balance conflicting expectations. Bangladesh can do it if the national interests remain the primary consideration," Riaz wrote in an email to Nikkei.

Defense diplomacy is part of Washington's broader Indo-Pacific strategy. In June 2019, the Department of Defense released its first report on the strategy, in which it recognized Bangladesh as an "emerging partner," alongside Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives in South Asia.

"Our Indo-Pacific vision is rooted in the fact that the United States, like Bangladesh, is an Indo-Pacific country," Stone told Nikkei. "Maritime and regional security in South Asia are critical to ensuring a free, open, peaceful, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region for the benefit of all its nations, which is why we prioritize efforts that promote security."

The growing influence of China in the region, and Bangladesh's participation in Chinese President Xi Jinping's signature Belt and Road Initiative, have made it imperative for the U.S. to vigorously pursue its Indo-Pacific agenda, said Riaz, who is also a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

The U.S. and Bangladesh have already collaborated on security in a range of areas, from counterterrorism to peacekeeping, under a foreign military financing scheme started in 2005. Since 2018, it has dispensed an additional $60 million to help pay for Bangladesh's maritime security and address other issues of critical concern.

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The U.S. administration is "aggressively pushing" the Indo-Pacific gambit to counteract China's BRI, of which Bangladesh has been a part since 2016, according to Amena Mohsin, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University. "The U.S. wants partnership on the war on terrorism [and] partnership on arms sales," she told Nikkei. "Bangladesh has strategic importance."

M. Humayun Kabir, a former ambassador to the U.S. who is now acting president of the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, a Dhaka think tank, said this puts Bangladesh in a tricky position. "This will be difficult for Bangladesh, as it is a friend of both the U.S. and China," said Kabir.

According to an official data, the U.S., with which Bangladesh enjoyed almost $7 billion in trade surplus in 2019, is the country's single largest export destination, while the South Asian economy of 170 million people has a chronic trade deficit -- totaling $12 billion in 2019 -- with China, its largest source of imports.

Riaz of Illinois State University predicted a shift in U.S. policy toward South Asia, with more engagement, if Joe Biden is elected president in November. But he believes it "won't be more accommodative to China's growing influence."

 

TNT

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US is an unreliable supplier and all the world knows this. No country would increase dependence on US than a certain limit.
 

mb444

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I am all for BD buying more stuff from US. If the US was to sell us F16 with AIM-120 AAMRAM we should go for it.

Wont matter at all, we can and should purchase J10 and subs from china.

Everyones happy and relationships managed.
 

HalfMoon

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BD is an Islamic country which is part of the new Islamic group supported by China, Pakistan, Turkiye, Malaysia & Iran.

BD will procure all her military equipment from China.
 

bluesky

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BD is an Islamic country which is part of the new Islamic group supported by China, Pakistan, Turkiye, Malaysia & Iran.

BD will procure all her military equipment from China.
Please do not utter Islamic brotherhood. We already know what it is. Moreover, the USA is talking on alliance based on geography. I would not say I like the American approach. But, Islam has nothing to do with it.

America is too far away and is too self-centered to help BD achieve its defense or economic goals. It is talking on behalf of India to encircle China with its neighbors. China is a friend of BD in need, America may not be, because it is overburdened with problems faced by many other countries.

Indo-Pacific is a broad term and the geography is too large to fit a small BD. We are not like Japan or South Korea.
 

mb444

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Please do not utter Islamic brotherhood. We already know what it is. Moreover, the USA is talking on alliance based on geography. I would not say I like the American approach. But, Islam has nothing to do with it.

America is too far away and is too self-centered to help BD achieve its defense or economic goals. It is talking on behalf of India to encircle China with its neighbors. China is a friend of BD in need, America may not be, because it is overburdened with problems faced by many other countries.

Indo-Pacific is a broad term and the geography is too large to fit a small BD. We are not like Japan or South Korea.
BD is not small. We are a country of 165m. We should punch at our weight. As economy grows our importance in global affair will also grow. Time is right to raise our head and take our position in the global heirarchy.
 

Bilal9

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US is an unreliable supplier and all the world knows this. No country would increase dependence on US than a certain limit.
Please recount details of F16 fiasco with Pakistan, start with the latest stuff please.
 

Bilal9

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BD is an Islamic country which is part of the new Islamic group supported by China, Pakistan, Turkiye, Malaysia & Iran.

BD will procure all her military equipment from China.
You made the decision on behalf of the Bangladesh Govt. already? 100% from China? :-)

What makes you so sure?
 

Avicenna

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A large part of things is the ability and competence to fight.

Not just acquiring hardware.

Despite the obvious pitfalls, I would want Bangladesh to gain access to US hardware and meaningful training and tactics.

This would be a major upgrade from the present situation.

Also, Western support (independent of India) would potentially be needed for any trouble with Myanmar.

I don't trust China OR India in that regard.
 

Destranator

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I am strongly in favour of inducting US hardware for exposure but any such hardware must be supplemented by equipment from other sources for redundancy against sanctions/strings (yes, I know, I know...this will complicate maintenance but still worth it).

For e.g.- J-10s should supplement F-16s, Z-10s should supplement Apaches, etc..

The balancing act will keep both the US and China from becoming complacent in regards to Bangladesh's concerns.
 

seven7seven

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I have no problem with Bangladesh gaining access to US military tech and arming itself to defend their country. Every country has that right. However, everything US does in the region is based on containing China's rise and so any defence purchases will come with obvious strings attached. The more Bangladesh becomes dependent on US military tech, the harder the US will push for Bangladesh to join its containment strategy against China and adopt anti-China policies. China in turn will have to change its approach towards Bangladesh, which at present are cordial and economic ties are booming.

Bangladesh has to decide if gaining access to US tech is worth annoying an emerging superpower, in China, on their doorstep and risk of cutting itself off to China's huge growing market which Bangladesh will need for its economic development, not to mention investment from cash-rich China. US intentions with regards to Bangladesh are probably no more than recruiting another potential proxy state that will bear the brunt of China's wrath, to further their geostrategic policy of containing China. China has shown with countries like Canada, Australia and India that they will not sit idly by when hostile countries are acting against their national interests.

I'm sure Bangladesh has no intention of upsetting China but when you bargain with the US Devil, the Devil will expect you to do his bidding. Putting yourself in between two warring superpowers is not an enviable position in my opinion.
 

Adonis

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I have no problem with Bangladesh gaining access to US military tech and arming itself to defend their country. Every country has that right. However, everything US does in the region is based on containing China's rise and so any defence purchases will come with obvious strings attached. The more Bangladesh becomes dependent on US military tech, the harder the US will push for Bangladesh to join its containment strategy against China and adopt anti-China policies. China in turn will have to change its approach towards Bangladesh, which at present are cordial and economic ties are booming.

Bangladesh has to decide if gaining access to US tech is worth annoying an emerging superpower, in China, on their doorstep and risk of cutting itself off to China's huge growing market which Bangladesh will need for its economic development, not to mention investment from cash-rich China. US intentions with regards to Bangladesh are probably no more than recruiting another potential proxy state that will bear the brunt of China's wrath, to further their geostrategic policy of containing China. China has shown with countries like Canada, Australia and India that they will not sit idly by when hostile countries are acting against their national interests.

I'm sure Bangladesh has no intention of upsetting China but when you bargain with the US Devil, the Devil will expect you to do his bidding. Putting yourself in between two warring superpowers is not an enviable position in my opinion.
"Bangladesh has to decide if gaining access to US tech is worth annoying an emerging superpower, in China, on their doorstep and risk of cutting itself off to China's huge growing market which Bangladesh will need for its economic development, not to mention investment from cash-rich China."

Shows how much you wag your tails in front of China....

1. So Bangladesh will have it's development as Pakistan had since 2013 (CPEC) ...taking use of "China's huge growth market" and investment of "Cash-Rich China"....

2. "Emerging Superpower" but not yet superpower...Germany was Emerging Superpower from 1933-1939..then it did what China is doing now, fidddled with too many countries ...rest of the states colluded and reduced Germany to rubble...so it never could become Superpower.....now, Fast forward 2020.....

Bangladesh has to see...where whole wold stand..not where Chinese Poodles are....interestingly most of them are blacklisted countries or soon going to be....
 
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Destranator

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I have no problem with Bangladesh gaining access to US military tech and arming itself to defend their country. Every country has that right. However, everything US does in the region is based on containing China's rise and so any defence purchases will come with obvious strings attached. The more Bangladesh becomes dependent on US military tech, the harder the US will push for Bangladesh to join its containment strategy against China and adopt anti-China policies. China in turn will have to change its approach towards Bangladesh, which at present are cordial and economic ties are booming.

Bangladesh has to decide if gaining access to US tech is worth annoying an emerging superpower, in China, on their doorstep and risk of cutting itself off to China's huge growing market which Bangladesh will need for its economic development, not to mention investment from cash-rich China. US intentions with regards to Bangladesh are probably no more than recruiting another potential proxy state that will bear the brunt of China's wrath, to further their geostrategic policy of containing China. China has shown with countries like Canada, Australia and India that they will not sit idly by when hostile countries are acting against their national interests.

I'm sure Bangladesh has no intention of upsetting China but when you bargain with the US Devil, the Devil will expect you to do his bidding. Putting yourself in between two warring superpowers is not an enviable position in my opinion.
There is very little Bangladesh could do to that would go against Chinese interests.
Buying American hardware will have no impact on China as they will not be used against them. In simple words, they would not care from a military perspective.

However, hob nob with the US will make China value its relation with BD more. It is a win-win for all three. The only losers would be Indian and Burmese evil ambitions to take advantage of BD.
 

mb444

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Please recount details of F16 fiasco with Pakistan, start with the latest stuff please.
Pakistan F16 was first given as charity. Then they bought a few more. In between they managed to create and then lose control of the taliban.... que sanctions etc...


The issue PK faced BD can face and can face from whoever we buy from until we build the jets ourselves.

I would not let pakistans experience cloud our judgement. Ensure freedom of operation and supply is built into the contract and if they do not agree, then do not buy.

Pakistans problem stemed from the fact that their purchases were minimal and tied to larger military aid programme that required congressional support.

Anyhow our money our choice.... we should not buy if there are conditions we can not live with....
 

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