In the last 52 years, Bangladesh has gradually transformed itself into a more capable state. Recently, several great powers have commended Bangladesh in different ways. The United States (US) Congress has introduced a resolution praising Bangladesh’s socio-economic development. President Joe Biden has also mentioned Bangladesh’s remarkable success. Not only has these occasional praises, but the US has also been pursuing Bangladesh to join in its grand geopolitical maneuver, the Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Not only the US, Japan, Russia, China, and India also use occasional rhetoric to pursue Bangladesh. Japan wants to develop a strategic partnership with Bangladesh, while India considers Bangladesh as a ‘strong pillar’ of its neighborhood first policy. On Bangladesh’s Independence Day, Xi Jinping also lauded Bangladesh’s development. Vladimir Putin also sent a message on the same occasion mentioning that the Bangladesh-Russia tie is based on ‘friendship and mutual respect.’ Apart from the congratulatory message, Russia has also tried to increase its diplomatic and trade relations with Bangladesh for the past few years.

Bangladesh-once a neglected nation, is now gradually becoming an important state for regional and global powers. The latest rhetoric and persuasion from different great powers suggest that it is now finding itself in a race for persuasion among the great powers.

Bangladesh’s praiseworthy transformation, its geostrategic location, and its future potential are the primary reason behind such importance it is garnering right now. Hence, there is a shift in the narrative regarding Bangladesh among the great powers.

Changing Narrative

Since its independence, Bangladesh has always experienced ‘historic neglect’ from the great powers. The great powers used to see Bangladesh through the eye of Delhi. The narrative regarding Bangladesh was also largely affected due to such a prism. The dominant narrative regarding Bangladesh was that it is a thriving least-developing country with serious climate vulnerability. It would be cliché to mention the ‘basket case.’ The world used to see Bangladesh as an ‘aid dependent’ country.

However, Bangladesh has been growing fast for the last two decades, and the transformation is visible. As a result, great powers are now also seeing Bangladesh differently. They are now opting for partnership and cooperation. As a result, various persuasions are also visible. The change occurred due to changing geopolitics and Bangladesh’s role.

Shifting Geopolitics

Power politics among the great powers lay elsewhere until China’s ‘so-called’ rise. The growing Chinese presence worldwide introduced a new strategy, the Indo-Pacific Strategy. The globalization of China introduced new schemes and alliances such as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), and the AUKUS pact among Australia, the United Kingdom, and the US.

Moreover, the Russo-US rivalry in Eastern Europe has also spilled over most regions of the world.

Due to the Indo-Pacific strategy, China’s BRI scheme, and the spillover of Russo-US rivalry, South Asia has become an important region for the great powers. Amid these heated geopolitics, Bangladesh has emerged as a key actor due to its access to the Bay of Bengal, its ‘deft’ balancing strategy, and ambitious capacity building in every sector. Bangladesh’s economic and military strength also makes it a perfect ally in South Asia.

What Can Bangladesh Offer?

According to the Global Fire Index, Bangladesh is the third largest military power in South Asia, behind India and Pakistan, and the 40th largest in the world. It is an almost middle-power state. Moreover, Bangladesh is the gateway between South and South East Asia. So, it is instrumental in any connectivity project, name it BRI or Trans-Asian High Way.

Bangladesh is also fast growing economy with a GDP of USD 460.75 billion– the 41st largest in the world. Bangladesh’s 171 million population makes it a lucrative market for giant producers and investors. Bangladesh is already dubbed as a ‘Frontier-Five’ economy. Moreover, Bangladesh’s leadership role in international forums such as climate, refugees, and LDCs also make it an important political actor for the great powers. Bangladesh is also the current Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).

Regarding geopolitics, Bangladesh is also lucrative as it is more desirable than the other South Asian States. India itself is a part of the rivalry against China, while Pakistan also has historical relations with China. Sri Lanka has gone bankrupt, while the economy of Nepal is also crumbling. Afghanistan is a war-torn country, and Bhutan is not much active in international politics. Meanwhile, Bangladesh has military-economic might and is yet to pick any side. So, Bangladesh is a crucial actor in geopolitical calculations and long-term cooperation at the same time, which makes Bangladesh desirable for great powers. Bangladesh’s balanced and neutral policy and occasional hedging strategy also increase anticipation among the powers.

Moreover, Bangladesh also has significant future potential. Bangladesh is currently pursuing military modernization titled Forces Goal 2030, which would transform Bangladesh into a modern military in the next decade. Moreover, Bangladesh is projected to become the 24th largest economy by 2036. Bangladesh’s current status and bright future make it a desired partner for large initiatives and bilateral cooperation. As a result, we see Japan seeking Bangladesh’s partnership to implement its BIG-B initiative; China deepening trade relations with Bangladesh; the US signing two security agreements, namely GSOMIA and ACSA; and Russia trying to increase its presence in Bangladesh in the last few years. So, the Great powers now see Bangladesh as a crucial state based on its achievements and potential in their pursuit of geopolitical and national interests. Therefore, there is a qualitative change in the ‘Bangladesh Narrative’ among the great powers.

(Shafiqul Elahi is a retired Government Official of Bangladesh)