In a move that is bound to irk India, Bangladesh has decided to buy military weapons from NORINCO, a Chinese company which is known for supplying arms to insurgent groups in India’s northeast.
In order to modernize its armed forces, Dhaka has decided to equip them with Night Vision Goggles (NVG), Ballistic helmets, Eye protective gear, Bulletproof vests, person to person communicators, palmtop GPS device and BD-08 assault rifles with a Collimator sight.
China has been the largest supplier of weaponry to Bangladesh, and the country purchased 650 BTR-80 APCs, 50 Otokar Cobra I LAVs, 50 Otokar Cobra II MRAPs and several BOV M11 armoured reconnaissance vehicles from Beijing since 2009.
So far, India has never objected to sourcing of these weapons from China. But, given the fact that relations with China are strained due border clash, India as well as other countries around the world, are not expected to give a free pass to Dhaka.
In the last few years, China has made every effort to bring Bangladesh on its side. Under the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative project, China is investing 31 billion dollars in Bangladesh’s infrastructure projects, second only to Pakistan where Beijing has invested 62 billion dollars.
In 2015, China took over India as the largest trade partner of Bangladesh, a place occupied by India since the country’s inception in 1971. A few days ago, China announced that it will give duty free access to 97 percent of Bangladeshi goods, in order to woo Dhaka.
Experts have opined that Bangladesh’s tilt towards China is harmful to India’s interests in the region. “There is a threat for India that China might influence the government of Bangladesh,” said Siegfried O Wolf, director of research at the South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF), a Brussels-based think-tank. This influence may also have an economic dimension, Wolf added. “We have seen China driving out other countries from the market. For instance, it has become very difficult for French and German companies to get contracts in African countries.”
Beijing has been using its economic prowess to turn the governments in India’s neighboring countries in its favour. However, it is often seen that the people of these countries turn up against Beijing within a few years, as they become aware of its debt-trap policy.
The Bangladeshi people have turned up against Beijing right from beginning. After China announced that it would allow duty free import of 97 percent of Chinese goods, people in Dhaka protested against Xi and expressed solidarity with India. The protestors expressed reservations over treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China, who are being “re-educated” in concentration camps. The protestors also said that China could never become friends with Bangladesh, as it is a friend of Pakistan- the arch-rival of Dhaka.
Bangladeshis have not forgotten how India fought and won a war with Pakistan in 1971 for creation of Bangladesh, and helped the country to flourish in last five decades. Moreover, Bangladeshi people would never want their country to ally with a country which is throwing ethnic Muslim minorities in concentration camps.
Bangladeshi government is not only going against India, but also its own people, by purchasing arms from Chinese companies. At a time when countries around the world are angry with China over handling of Coronavirus and wants to hold Beijing accountable, the countries which ally with Beijing would also face the wrath, as seen in the case of Germany.
A few weeks ago, the United States pulled out a quarter of its troops from German military bases, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken a pro-China stance in the last few months.
President Trump has already declared that in the war against China, either the countries are with the US or against the US. In the negotiation of Free Trade deal with the United Kingdom, the Trump administration asked London to either choose the US and throw Huawei out, or it will be considered an enemy, and Boris Johnson very wisely chose the former.
Germany chose to support China in World Health Organization and anchor European Union for a closer alliance with Beijing, and now it has paid by losing a quarter of American troops on its bases.
If Bangladesh comes out as a Chinese ally amid the pandemic, it would suffer by losing strategic ties with India and business ties with the Western world. The United Kingdom, United States, and many other Western countries are major employer of Bangladeshi garment factories.
As per a report by Nikkei Asian Review, Japan’s premier financial newspaper, U.K.’s Edinburgh Woolen Mills Group, whose key brands include Peacocks, Jaeger, Bonmarche, and Austin Reed, has cancelled orders worth more than 30 million from nearly three dozen Bangladeshi factories.
Bangladesh is trying to convince UK government to tell the factories to resume the order, but if Dhaka is seen allying with the dragon; the orders are very unlikely to resume. China is on target of the UK since the eruption of protests in Hong Kong, and any country seen as an ally of Beijing would irk London.
As the orders from European countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain- the major importers of Bangladeshi garments, got cancelled, more than 1,000 factories have been shut down and 3 million workers are out job, with their families facing poverty.
Therefore, as Bangladesh buys arms with a Chinese company at a time when majority of the countries around the world are against Beijing, it would not only irk India, its all-weather ally, but also face the wrath of the countries around the world including the United States.