Is the current American policy toward Bangladesh mis calculative? By Mehjabin Banhu

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The new US visa policy was introduced before of the general elections in May 2023. US Secretary Antony Blinken made a remark that sounded more like a threat from Washington, saying that Bangladeshi people who meddle in the democratic political process would face visa restrictions, which is never within the purview of an outside authority. Following the incident, six members of Congress wrote the US President calling with him to take action to secure free and fair elections in Bangladesh. Do these actions follow any diplomatic rules? Someone could ask.

Is Bangladesh an American-ruled republic? Are Bangladesh's people really that naïve as to not understand the geopolitics and diplomacy behind US actions? The political dynamics and system of Bangladesh are difficult. It is not brand-new. Why is the US trying to change the political climate in Bangladesh? 

It is clear that the US is making numerous mistakes in its approach toward Bangladesh in the name of democracy and human rights. This US decision is influenced by a variety of factors, but these factors also have worldwide effects. First, the US wants Bangladesh to join bloc politics in the wake of the Taiwan dispute and the Russia-Ukraine war.

Bangladesh has constantly adopted multipolarity, maintained a non-aligned position in international politics, and followed neutrality in its foreign policy decisions. While the conflict was still ongoing, Bangladesh and other South Asian nations twice abstained from UN proceedings in order to condemn Russia. On the other hand, Bangladesh voted in favor of Ukraine on the subject of human rights. 

Bangladesh has reiterated that it still supports the "One China Policy" with regard to the Taiwan question. The Taiwan problem continues to be a top concern for the US and its Western allies, and South Asian allies want the US to shift its position on Taiwan. Second, the US has the greatest interests in the Indo-Pacific region.

Bangladesh was invited to participate in initiatives like QUAD or IPS by the US in an effort to encircle China completely. Due to the nation's usually non-militaristic foreign policy, which is frequently promoted by the constitution, Bangladesh strongly rejected to join any security alliance and gave economic diplomacy first priority for any attempts. In December 2022, Bangladesh published its Indo-Pacific Outlook, stressing the importance of a safe and peaceful region and highlighting China's importance in it. 

Third, by attempting to meddle in Bangladesh's domestic affairs, the US has transgressed Bangladesh's sovereignty. It is interfering in domestic affairs in Bangladesh and applying great pressure on the country to embrace a western-dominated foreign policy by using democracy and human rights as a tool. Residents of Bangladesh have harshly criticized such limitations. It raises concerns about the continuity and integrity of the United States' commitment to democratic norms when it supports authoritarian governments in some parts of the world while advancing democracy and human rights in other parts of the world.

Third, by attempting to meddle in Bangladesh's domestic affairs, the US has transgressed Bangladesh's sovereignty. It is interfering in domestic affairs in Bangladesh and applying great pressure on the country to embrace a western-dominated foreign policy by using democracy and human rights as a tool. Residents of Bangladesh have harshly criticized such limitations. It raises concerns about the continuity and integrity of the United States' commitment to democratic norms when it supports authoritarian governments in some parts of the world while advancing democracy and human rights in other parts of the world.

Such a paradox runs the risk of weakening the American democratic agenda and generating unfairness claims. 

Fourth, the close economic links between China and Bangladesh have caused the US to become apprehensive. 99 percent of Chinese markets are duty-free for products from Bangladesh. Bangladesh joined the BRI as well to safeguard the development of its infrastructure. China has invested close to $39 billion through BRI. Another example of the two countries' strong bilateral ties is the completion of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge and the Bangabandhu Karnaphuli Tunnel. Aside from escaping the "debt trap" that the west has warned about, Bangladesh is also maintaining a sizable foreign exchange reserve.

Even though it is tough to pay in US dollars, Bangladesh has resorted to doing so with Chinese RMB. China has been asked by Bangladesh to mediate the Rohingyas' departure from Myanmar. The US has been unable to offer Bangladesh a useful policy in each of these cases. 

Additionally, China's vice minister of international affairs Sun Weidong paid a three-day visit to Dhaka on May 26, 2023, at a time of heightened volatility in relations between the United States and Bangladesh. Bangladesh is considering joining the Global Development Initiative launched by China. The US disagreed with this selection. Fifth, the US has even less hope for the growing connections between Bangladesh and Russia.

The Rooppur Power nuclear reactor represented enduring friendship. Bangladesh is aiming toward its goals of becoming a high-income country by 2041 and having a mature economy by 2050. Bangladesh prioritizes energy sustainability, and Russia is assisting Bangladesh in achieving this goal.

But one cannot ignore the internal element of the US strategy mistake. The opposition parties' narrative, which is sometimes unsubstantiated by facts, is the focus of the US's first strategy. The non-resident supporters of the Bangladeshi opposition party in the US have backed the opposition's claims. US policymakers regularly make terrible decisions because they do not comprehend such lobby dynamics. The political party that the US is emphasizing does not have a specific election platform or vision for Bangladesh.

The parties who supported it were quite supportive of the concept of imposing visa restrictions in Bangladesh. Election platforms used by the current administration included "Digital Bangladesh" in 2008, "Development" in 2014 and 2018, and "Smart Bangladesh" in 2023. 

On the other hand, the US is not traveling through time. Bangladesh reached the top of the corruption rankings while these opposition organizations were in power, and their government openly supported and even encouraged terrorism. Even historical evidence points to the possibility that the US regime change in Bangladesh may not result in the precise benefits the US is seeking.

Given that bureaucratic foreign policy has a strong influence on South Asia, the party might be in favor of the coalition's current agenda. Another mistake the US is making with this strategy is that the opposition party has no position on the issues of Taiwan, the Rohingya, or Ukraine. Because the people of Bangladesh would not change their opinions on China, Russia, or Ukraine, the US's coercive scheme and attempt to remove the government in Bangladesh could backfire.

Second, US policy is a little distorted since print, electronic, and online media channels publish news articles with bogus justifications for US intervention about Bangladesh's democratic process. However, the US is undermining Bangladesh's democratic system and free and fair elections by meddling in domestic politics. With this mindset, the US is losing its standing as a reliable global power. Thirdly, the US is putting more pressure on European nations to engage in the domestic politics of Bangladesh. While the US conducts similar initiatives to isolate Bangladesh, Bangladesh is focussing on joining organizations like BRICS and diversifying its exports of RMG, notably to Middle Eastern countries.

Bangladesh's geographic location and growing economy have boosted its strategic significance in global affairs. Furthermore, it is understandable that the EU is reluctant to sanction Bangladesh in conformity with US demands. 

In conclusion, it should be stressed that adopting a "selective and humiliating visa policy" for Bangladesh—a friendly neighbor and a rising economy with 170 million people—is a horrible policy choice in terms of diplomacy and general international relations. It is detrimental to attempt to sway Bangladesh's election by immigration policy and a few undiplomatic and strong actions, according to all factors and historical evidence. Bangladesh is not comparable to Ukraine, Egypt, or Tunisia.

It is a country with a long history of personal sacrifices made during the Liberation, strong leadership offered by the longest-running and most popular political party in power, and the fastest-growing economy. 

 

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