The kind of emotions, expectation and preparation that Bangladesh politics and media displayed on the visit of US undersecretary of state Donald Lu was a good example of the state of current Bangladeshi politics. It's very external focused right now and for the moment the big player in the game is the US.
That Bangladesh has serious internal political issues is not exactly a secret. However, the kind of extreme dependence on foreign political aid that is for all to see is a relatively new reality. Has external political pressures become the most important combo in the country's political scenario is a question that strikes all.
It's obvious whether stated or not, the political systems have not matured in fifty years. The rise of foreign powers in the national political scene may not be welcomed by some, but it's a reality none can ignore now.
From economics to politics; what happened?
Even 5 years back when the Rohingyas from Myanmar crossed over to Bangladesh, the world did nothing as Bangladesh didn't matter. While China didn't exactly push them out, the Chinese were certainly very silent about the push out and did nothing that could persuade a Myanmar government heavily linked to them to restrain the human flood.
The US made some nice noises but did nothing more as they were looking for trade deals with Myanmar. They basically took a break from their anti -human rights abuse violation related concerns conveniently that could be called putting meaningful pressure on Myanmar.
Even regional powerhouse but global small-timer India cozied up to Myanmar and were happy to go along with Myanmar's main line accusing the Rohingyas of being infiltrators.
Bangladesh tried its best to raise the matter at the international level but failed and it wasn't just the general incompetence of the diplomatic corps. Frankly speaking, Bangladesh didn't matter much strategically and could basically be allowed to be a dumping ground for problems of other more important states. Yet scarcely five years later, is Bangladesh looking unusually significant that is meriting attention of the bigger powers that is leading to small-time poxy skirmishes here?
The cold war between US and China
Five years back, both China and the US were strong and getting stronger but the rivalry was not as virulent as it is now. The fight has intensified since then and a series of events have taken place since then that has turned every place a battlefield for both. And even in Bangladesh, the almost forgotten space of global politics, the battle has touched down. Bangladesh has not become more strong or significant but the war between the US and China has become decidedly more serious.
China is generally thought to be purely economics oriented with low focus on strategic politics but this is debatable. China needs local politics for its economic and not political expansion. One is generally used to thinking of that being the exclusive domain of the US or the USSR but China too needs politics to retain its economic clout.
China's links with local politics has become inevitable after its massive investment in mega projects in Bangladesh. The current government is China's best friend and willing to play along and a good guarantor of its repayment. So it backs the AL for that reason.
And the AL has played along for the same reason knowing that as China's best buyer, it's also the vendor's best political friend. China's displeasure with the Opposition BNP is no secret either. Is that why the US is being read as pro-BNP?
The US push
Weak formal institutional politics in Bangladesh remain as high as ever. Elections are becoming more ceremonial than real and parties consider ousting governments through street movements as a precursor to such elections. That both speak of the fundamental weakness of the political system is not discussed and the media also goes along this line.
Meanwhile, in local level international politics, the US embassy did the hardline pressure game playing with its disproving statements and visits to homes of disappearance victims. So many were expecting more pressure leading to sanctions, with Lu's visit. But the visitor was more accommodating than expected and even hinted at a better behaved RAB, the main sore issue behind sanctions, around which BD politics is being played.
The GOB has asked its diplomats to maintain good relations to prevent sanctions while the Opposition is harping on more sanctions coming Bangladesh way. Local political factors may not be decisive in Bangladesh elections/politics as much as sanctions are/will.
As soon as Lu left, GOB claimed that sanctions on RAB will soon be lifted and the opposition said, the visitor has called Bangladesh "undemocratic. The political ping pong goes on.
It seems, the US and China both want a favourable government, not a particular government. It's not about which party delivers but which can deliver. The pressure of the Sino-US rivalry is already very high and basically has made local political issues a minor factor. Even Dec 10 paled in significance to the AL when sanctions didn't arrive and the AL's recent big meet is not as important as a US politician's arrival.
Neither China nor the US is about to give up a good fight but let's hope BD politics is not knocked out. Right now, one is not sure if it's more about US-China conflict than local rivalries.
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