G20 Summit – Sheikh Hasina’s Finest Hour

16 September, 2023 12:00 AM Print news

Abdul Mannan

The mega G20 Summit is over and the VVIP guests have gone home with lots of memories and commitments. It was a summit of global leaders representing about 80 percent of Gross World Product (GWP), 75 percent of international trade, two-thirds of global population 60 percent of world’s land area. Modi and his government will try to take all the credit for hosting a mega event of this magnitude. The Summit held between 9 and 10 September managed to put together a joint declaration agreed by the member countries of G20. Three big superpowers, USA, Russia and China agreeing to sign the declaration is also a landmark in diplomacy by the Indian Foreign Office. Many thought that such a declaration may not be possible due to Russia-Ukraine war but due to craftsmanship of those drafting it the issue was just mentioned as ‘War in Ukraine’ without blaming the responsibility of the war just on Russia.

Amongst the galaxies of world leaders was invited Sheikh Hasina the Prime Minister of Bangladesh by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, though Bangladesh is not a member of this group. Her invitation in Summits like this is an acknowledgement of her success in leading Bangladesh to a new height of success.
Leaving aside the other countries, Bangladesh’s relationship with India is not only historical but also galvanized with bloods of the people of both countries shed in 1971. Bangladesh and India share a long 4,156 Km of border, the fifth-longest land border in the world. Both countries share common history and heritage. Most important is the security of India which in its north-eastern front largely depends on Bangladesh’s goodwill and intention. India has seen how this security was threatened in the past when Begum Zia led government was in power. Supervised by her son, the BNP’s absconding Chairperson Tarique Rahman, Bangladesh was used as a safe passage for smuggling sophisticated arms to India’s secessionists and insurgents of its North East territories.

Though there were a large number of world leaders in the New Delhi Summit, it seems it was Sheikh Hasina who stole the show. Her presence was marked by a number of events, one being an hour and thirty minute long exclusive bilateral talk with India’s Prime Minister. They discussed matters of mutual interest, ranging from economic cooperation, connectivity, cultural exchange and co-operation in agriculture research. Hasina-Modi talk was followed by a bilateral talk between US President Joe Biden and Narendra Modi.

The sequencing of the two talks may have been co-incidental but from an analyst’s point of view it is seen as meaningful with Bangladesh’s 12th national parliament election just about three months away. Though India for its own interest always expected that its eastern frontiers should be peaceful, US wanted to have a government in Bangladesh that will protect its corporate interest. Though US did not support an independent Bangladesh in 1971, subsequently it mended it fences and emerged as one of the most important development and trade partner of Bangladesh. Its investment in Bangladesh’s energy sector is still the biggest. Besides Bangladesh, the US also has a very strong presence in South-South East Asia with its huge investment. The only country where US is still to make any presence is North Korea. Vietnam, the country where the rule is authoritarian with freedom of assembly, association, expression, press and religious as well as civil society activism strictly restricted, has a huge US investment in its soil. Interestingly enough US President immediately after his Delhi visit dashed to Vietnam and told the media that he could not talk about human rights in India. Perhaps it is a right issue in a wrong place.

Though India’s interest in maintaining a warm relationship with Bangladesh is security and economic, the US interest besides economic also is about establishing dominance in the Indo-Pacific region through Bangladesh. Because of Bangladesh’s strategic location it is usual that US would like to have Bangladesh on its side in case there is any threat to US interest in this region. So it is not unusual that US would like to have a government in Bangladesh on which it can rely in case of any disruption of status quo in this region. On this count Bangladesh has maintained its long standing foreign policy ‘friendship towards all, malice towards none’, and when it announced its Indo-Pacific Outlook Policy, it reiterated its policy that Bangladesh considers the stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region to be a crucial factor in realizing its ‘vision 2041’ i.e., building a modern knowledge based developed country by 2041. Bangladesh also reiterated its view that the Indo-Pacific region should be open to all. US or even India perceives that Bangladesh is moving very close to China which Sheikh Hasina time and again dispelled it saying Bangladesh’s ties with China is more economic and business. Bangladesh’s standing on this issue has been appreciated both by US and India.

According to a report published by HSBC Global Research revealed on 19 October 2022 Bangladesh is expected to be the 9th largest consumer (according to some 3rd.) market for consumer goods by 2030 ahead of Germany and UK. This will happen because of the size of Bangladesh economy of which approximately 25 percent will be economic middle class, in absolute terms which may stands at around 60 million. Not many countries in the world have a total population of this size. The producers of consumer goods of which US, China, EU countries and India are in the forefront will try to exploit this opportunity. That all these countries will want to maintain a good relationship with Bangladesh is expected and with it will come the expectation of seeing Bangladesh’s stability remains undisturbed.

Delhi Summit was not only about Biden’s selfie with Sheikh Hasina and her daughter or the humility shown by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak while talking with Sheikh Hasina; it was all about bringing out the best of Sheikh Hasina’s diplomatic maturity and ability to put the national interest in the forefront, which she was able to demonstrate on a number of previous occasions. Since 2009 under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina Bangladesh has climbed new stairs at regular intervals. Her charisma and personality outperformed many others. Bangladesh’s success can only be ensured by a political stability which many agrees Sheikh Hasina can deliver. Unfortunately some western countries with their regular unwarranted activities in Bangladesh seem they prefer otherwise so that they can fish in troubled waters.

The writer is an analyst and a commentator

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