Politics, World, Asia - Pacific

Bangladesh, China tangle over US-led Quad

Experts see no room for damage to ties with China, and Dhaka is also seeking millions of vaccine doses from Beijing

SM Najmus Sakib and Md. Kamruzzaman   | 12.05.2021
Bangladesh, China tangle over US-led Quad

DHAKA, Bangladesh

A row has arisen between China and Bangladesh over a proposal to join a US-led security grouping after China’s ambassador in Dhaka on Monday warned of “substantial damage” to bilateral ties if Bangladesh joins.

A day after Ambassador Li Jiming's warning, a top Bangladeshi official called the comments unwelcome, saying that Bangladesh will respond to any proposal from any sources in line with its own foreign policy.

China sees the quadrilateral security dialogue (Quad) – which includes the US, Japan, Australia, and India – as an alliance against the country and a threat to itself.

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen on Tuesday criticized Li's warnings, telling reporters: “China is talking about the issue in advance over the US-led four-nation security alliance quad. No decision has yet been made about the Quad, and Bangladesh will decide on it as an independent, sovereign country.”

Li said China fears ties between Bangladesh and China will be substantially damaged if Bangladesh joins the US-led Quad alliance.

On April 27, visiting Bangladesh’s president, prime minister, and chief of General Staff, Chinese Minister Defense Wei Fenghe also urged Bangladesh not to join the US-led Quad.

However, he agreed to pursue advanced military cooperation between the two countries.


Comments won't affect ties, say experts

Imtiaz Ahmed, a foreign policy analyst at Dhaka University in Bangladesh’s capital, told Anadolu Agency that Bangladesh historically has never joined any security alliance and it does not want to, except for pursuing economic ties.

Saying that Li’s remarks came in response to a reporter’s question and were not planned, he added that Bangladesh has not brought the Quad issue to any discussion table.

“Bangladesh has never joined any security groups formed against any country, including against Iraq or Afghanistan in the past. Thus I think it won’t be an issue,” he said.

“The four countries in the quad have been most affected by the (COVID-19) pandemic economically,” he explained.

“And the US and India are seemingly not cooperating on the COVID-19 issue as expected, while India is getting medical supplies from China.”

“Pre- and post-pandemic quads and relations among nations could take new shapes,” he said. “So I don’t think this quad could be a big concern in this region.”

Saying that COVID-19 vaccines are the most important issue now for Bangladesh, he urged Dhaka and Beijing to concentrate on making vaccines available for closer relations.

Bangladesh has already joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative for economic development, and also is set to join an US-led initiative for economic cooperation, the Indo-Pacific Strategy.


Bangladesh to buy 50M Chinese vaccine doses

Health Minister Zahid Maleque told reporters on Tuesday that Bangladesh had sent a letter to Beijing on buying Chinese Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccines.

“We have requested China to begin releasing the vaccines commercially by June or July, and China responded positively. And, at least we want to buy primarily 40 to 50 million doses and we’re ready to purchase more if China is able to supply,” Maleque said.

But on Monday Li had said it might take until December to release vaccines for Bangladesh commercially. It took months for Dhaka to approve the Chinese vaccine despite China seeking approval this February, he said.

Referring to Li’s comments, Maleque added that Bangladesh will get the vaccines in several installments. Dhaka has requested Beijing send the first shipment by June or July.

A half-million doses of Chinese vaccines as a gift have already reached Bangladesh on Wednesday.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Dr. Mustafa Jalal Mohiuddin, the head of a local doctors’ group, said that Bangladesh should strengthen communication with China via diplomatic channels to get vaccines as early as possible.

"We also came to know that there is a huge stock of Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines in the US. Bangladesh should also try to contact the Joe Biden administration to collect a good amount from them," he said.


Co-production with China

About co-production of coronavirus vaccines locally with China, Maleque said that a good number of local companies have the capability to produce the vaccines.

"We have already agreed on co-production with China and we are working on it," he added.

Referring to Chinese performance in addressing the lethal virus, Mohiuddin also urged Bangladeshi authorities to start co-production of the vaccines with China locally as soon as possible.

Underlining the rapid worsening of the pandemic situation in neighboring India, he warned that Bangladesh must be well prepared to stem any such escalation.

Echoing similar themes, Maleque added: "There is no doubt that Bangladesh always prioritizes its own interest."

"We are simultaneously pursuing co-production of vaccines with China and Russia and we will start the process very soon."

The south Asian country of 165 million has so far registered 12,045 deaths from COVID-19 and 777,397 infections, the Health Ministry said Wednesday.

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