By Md. Asraf Ali

Great Powers’ Politics in Bangladesh’s Liberation War:

Bangladesh is a very small South Asian republic. It shares borders with India, Myanmar, and the Bay of Bengal from the west to the east. The politics of the Cold War and the superpower competition of the 1970s shaped the birth of Bangladesh. During the 1971 independence struggle, the United States took a stance against Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan, and sided with the Pakistani authorities, then known as West Pakistan. As the Pakistani administration was secretly assisting US authorities to reestablish friendly ties with China, which was crucial for American national interests, However, Indian support aided Bangladesh in gaining Russian backing to circumvent a large-scale United Nations Security Council (UNSC) obstruction to achieving independence in December 1971 (Haider, 2009). After Bangladesh’s independence, China vetoed its bid to join the United Nations General Assembly. After China’s recognition of Bangladesh in 1975, the diplomatic complications between China and Bangladesh transformed into friendliness. Since then, Sino-Bangladesh bilateral relations have steadily improved, culminating in 2016 with President Xi Jinping’s official visit to Bangladesh, which elevated the bilateral relationship to a new level as a “strategic partnership” (Daily Star, 2022).

Relevance of Geostrategic Importance of Bangladesh for China

Despite the fact that President Xi Jinping launched the BRI in 2013, Bangladesh became an official participant during Xi’s visit to the country in 2016. China has a lot of incentives to incorporate Bangladesh into the BRI for a variety of reasons. Firstly, Bangladesh is deemed the junction point of South Asia, South East Asia, and the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh can offer China access to the vast markets in these regions and port access to the Bay of Bengal as a result of its advantageous geostrategic location (Saimum, 2020). China’s access to the Bay of Bengal is crucial, as approximately 80% of its international trade is carried through this marine route, and about 85% of its energy traffic is dependent on this channel. Therefore, avoiding the “Malacca Dilemma,” which is dominated by the United States and its allies, could be advantageous for China. Secondly, China’s overcapacity in the manufacturing sector is already a burden. China can export its industrial overcapacity to Bangladesh and thereby alleviate its domestic problem, given that Bangladesh’s economy is expanding and the country’s infrastructure and industrial growth require massive investment (Saimum, 2020).

How Bangladesh fits in between IPS and BRI

There are numerous IPS-related concerns that could significantly, if not forcefully, impact Sino-Bangladesh relations in the context of the BRI. Initially, the United States would prefer that Bangladesh’s economic and security cooperation with China not be extensive. In contrast, the United States prefers that Bangladesh keep a reasonable distance from China so that it does not fall under that country’s multifaceted influence. Growing economic ties with China would substantially expand Chinese interests in the Bay of Bengal, undermining the traditional power balance of the United States in the region (Anwar et al., 2022). Bangladesh’s ability to engage in strong economic and geopolitical ties with China will be hampered by the expanding US presence in the Indo-Pacific region, as the United States views China as the sole revisionist power in the international system. The projected Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC) would remain a pipe dream until India, a strong US ally in the Indo-Pacific region, cooperates and participates in this framework. India is not a member of the BCIM-EC and has not shown any interest in partnering on the building of the corridor. If the corridor is not established, Bangladesh will lose out on a large amount of economic benefit. Thirdly, Bangladesh greatly benefits from the economic and commercial success of the United States. For example, the United States has been one of Bangladesh’s largest aid donors in Asia for decades, supporting Bangladesh’s progress in agriculture, military, education, capacity building of various institutions, food security, poverty reduction, and natural catastrophe prevention. In the current Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, the United States continues to offer the most humanitarian aid. It is also working for Bangladesh by putting targeted sanctions on Myanmar’s senior military junta, while China has not played a much more substantial role for Bangladesh in multilateral forums compared to the US. Therefore, increasing alignment with China might potentially impede U.S. support in these sectors. Fourthly, Bangladesh’s FDI and exports could decline if it provides strategic support for China via BRI. At present, the United States is Bangladesh’s greatest investor and exporter of FDI. In 2021, US imports from Bangladesh totaled USD 8.3 billion, and FDI inflow totaled USD 4.3 billion, which accounted for almost 20% of Bangladesh’s entire FDI stock (Department of State, 2022). Bangladesh’s ability to resist extremism, militancy, terrorism, narcoterrorism, and transnational security concerns may be hampered if it engages in deep strategic relations with adversaries of the United States’ key interests in the region. To this day, the United States remains Bangladesh’s top supplier of aid in the face of these non-traditional security concerns. To promote and sustain Bangladesh’s economy and stability, the United States provides training for the country’s military, funds the establishment of security institutions, and shares important information with intelligence agencies. As a result, if Bangladesh assists China in undermining the critical interests of the US in this region, Bangladesh will lose a variety of US support.

Bangladesh has become the bottleneck for regional and global powers to achieve geostrategic benefit (Ahamed and Rahman, 2020). This small nation is today referred to as the “country of opportunity,” although it was once referred to as the “bottomless basket.” Bangladesh is now essential for China, India, and the United States to protect their crucial national security interests, given the current geopolitical landscape. In the near future, it may be anticipated that Bangladesh’s relations with these nations will encounter dynamic challenges.


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Anwar, A., Macdonald, G., & Markey, D. (2022, May 14). Bangladesh’s balancing act amid the U.S. indo-pacific strategy. United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved January 16, 2023, from

Department of State, U. S. (2022, July 19). U.S. relations with Bangladesh – United States Department of State. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved January 16, 2023, from

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Saimum, R. (2020). The prospect of belt and road initiative in the context of Bangladesh. China Report, 56(4), 464–483.

(Md. Asraf Ali is a Master’s student in South Asian Studies at the University of Dhaka’s Department of International Relations. Prior to this, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the University of Dhaka. Currently, he is a research intern at the Dhaka University Center for Genocide Studies (CGS). He can be reached via e-mail: