Anxious Dragon resorts to bullying the neighbours
Beijing realises that there is the danger of it being isolated from other Asian, especially South Asian, countries which may look upon Quad as a bulwark against an expansionist China
China is more and more adopting a big-brotherly attitude toward its small neighbours, giving rise to both fear and resentment in them. On May 10, the Chinese ambassador to Bangladesh, Li Jiming, told a virtual meeting of the Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (DCAB) that “Obviously it will not be a good idea for Bangladesh to participate in this small club of four (meaning the Quad) because it will substantially damage our bilateral relationship.” In course of his speech, he branded the Quad as an “Asian NATO”.
This despite the fact that neither the Quad has expressed any intent to include more countries, other than US, Australia, India and Japan, in its fold, nor has Bangladesh shown any intent to join the Quad. The Chinese Ambassador’s statement, which was a not-so-veiled warning, was totally uncalled for and unnecessary. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson of China told reporters in Beijing that, “We always treat other countries despite their size as equals.” The reference to “size” was another diplomatic affront, reminding Bangladesh of its small size compared to China’s.
The rebuff from Dhaka came immediately. Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen, in a strongly-worded statement, told China in no ambiguous terms that as a sovereign country Bangladesh would determine the course of its foreign policy in the interest of its people. He urged foreign envoys in Dhaka “to maintain decency and decorum while speaking in public”.
Unapologetic, the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded: “We believe it (the Quad) is an exclusive clique against China and trying to rally countries around China to work against China.” Beijing may believe anything it wants, but can it dictate to other countries how they should conduct their foreign policy? The sovereignty of Bangladesh, despite its comparatively small size, is equal to the sovereignty of China, not a whit less.
Commenting editorially, The Daily Star of Dhaka said: “Countries may naturally have issues that need to be sorted out and the established practice to resolve them is through diplomatic engagement at state levels. It is frustrating to see that instead of doing so, the ambassador chose to relay his concern on a public platform. While Chinese representatives are, of course welcome to express their opinion, it shouldn’t extend to telling us what we can or cannot do as an independent nation. It’s undiplomatic, uncalled for and therefore unacceptable.”
Browbeating the small neighbours has become the hallmark of China’s foreign policy. Last month, China’s Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe on a visit to Colombo delivered a similar warning to Sri Lanka not to join any military alliance.
Obviously, China is realizing that its policy of encircling India through its “string of pearls” policy has failed and there is the danger of China being isolated from other Asian, especially South Asian, countries which may look upon the Quad as a bulwark against an expansionist China. Its expansionist policy is evident from a look at its military spending. According to figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the military spending by China in 2020 was $252 billion, against the USA’s $778 billion and India’s $73.9 billion. Immediately threatened by China is Taiwan. According to its “One China policy”, Beijing is determined to the “unification” of Taiwan with mainland China. It is being thwarted in its objective because the United States is committed to defending Taiwan against any aggression by China.
China is feeling uneasy with India’s growing military strength. Its experience in eastern Ladakh last year was none too happy. It realised that India is no longer a pushover. Recalling 1962 and reminding India of that border war is useless as it has no relevance today.
China is also threatening the Philippines. Recently, president Rodrigo Duterte that he would send his country’s “few warships” when it started drilling for oil and other precious resources in the West Philippines Sea.
India’s relationship with Bangladesh was good but the advent of the BJP government in Delhi and Home Minister Amit Shah’s repeated assertion that he will seek out and push all the “ghuspethias” (illegal immigrants) living in India and drive them out has raised concerns in Dhaka. Shah’s repeated assurance that “Bangladeshis” are an internal problem of India and Bangladesh has nothing to worry about has not assured Bangladesh at all, because by “ghuspethias” the BJP means the Bengali Muslims (they are all assumed to be from Bangladesh).
If they are driven out they will cross the border and go to Bangladesh. Dhaka has categorically stated that no citizen of Bangladesh is living illegally in India and so the question of Bangladesh accepting them does nor arise. Harping on the ”ghuspetias” can only embitter our relationship with Bangladesh. Any rift in Indo-Bangla relationship will be good tidings for Beijing. Diplomacy is a fine art. Muscle-flexing is no diplomacy. In our battle with China we have to win friends, not lose them.
Views are personal