While Bangladesh's top concerns are sanctions and investment, the US wants to ensure its security in the Indo-Pacific area amidst the current great power rivalry with China. In order to accomplish this, the US plans to sign two defense agreements with Bangladesh that it hopes will strengthen military ties through enhanced intelligence sharing and exchange of logistical and technological support
The US is seeking more engagement with Bangladesh now than ever before. Although the two countries' diplomatic ties began on April 4, 1972, the current focus of US on Bangladesh reminds us that it desires a strategic partnership with Bangladesh.
Over the last decade, cooperation in trade, investment and security, particularly in counter-terrorism, has strengthened, especially after 2016. Trade between the two countries favours Bangladesh, and the US is the largest single market for garments produced in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is also the third-largest recipient of US aid in South Asia. But sanctions by the US have fallen numerous times in the context of such a relationship.
The year 2021 was a trying one for relations between the US and Bangladesh.
On December 10 last year, the US applied sanctions on Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and numerous current and former officers for a long history of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings. Bangladesh was not invited to the virtual Summit for Democracy that same month by the Biden administration.
The US decision to apply sanctions on Bangladesh,which include ideals like democracy and human rights, is considered as a strategic move by the Biden administration in its shift in its foreign policy and geopolitical objectives.
US-Bangladesh ties are coming under scrutiny with discussions, criticisms and analyses being held.
On March 20, 2022, Bangladesh held the 8th US-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue after a oneyear of hiatus due to the corona pandemic. The US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, the third highest ranking person in the US State Department, visited Dhaka. The Bangladeshi team, on the other hand, was led by Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen.
Those two delegates came together primarily to strengthen 50 years of bilateral connection and establish a «robust relationship».
It is surprising that the US is showing interest in Bangladesh and has included it in its strategic calculations today.
However, the dialogue took place in two stages at the same location: in the first meeting, Bangladesh raised the issue of US sanctions against Bangladesh's elite RAB force, calling them "unjustified", and the US sought Bangladesh's support in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The primary debate ofthe dialogue then commenced in the second stage to close the gaps in their bilateral ties.
Joe Biden, the US President, had stated earlier this year that he believes Dhaka-Washington relationship would endure for the next 50 years and beyond.
'Our defense coopera-tion is stronger than ever', the US president wrote to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, adding that the Bangladesh Coast Guard and Navy were vital allies in ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific region, as well as contributing to the regional fight against human and illicit drug trafficking.
On the heels of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Nuland said theUS wanted to work together with Bangladesh on global security.
"Bangladesh and the US will work together to protect democracy and human rights at a time when Russia is invading Ukraine in the changed world situation, and international law and human rights are un-der threat," Nuland said at the start of the 8th Partnership Dialogue.
Recently, newly-appointed US Ambassador to Dhaka Peter Haas had praised Bangladesh's contribution in promoting peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, saying the US wishes to work with Bangladesh to achieve their common goals.
"Bangladesh and the UShave opposing but remarkably similar views for the Indo-Pacific area. We can - and do - collaborate to enhance areas where our visions intersect," he remarked.
During Nuland's visit to Dhaka, she signed a draft defense cooperation agreement, which represents that endeavour.
The increasing attention of the US in recent times in democracy and human rights in Bangladesh raises the question, why is the US taking this action now. One possibility is that US sees a larger role for the country in its Indo-Pacific strategy.
Bangladesh favours regional peace. It still believes in the importance of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Bangladesh believes the US sanctions are motivated by geopolitics, while the US claims the RAB is harming the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. The US must recognise that Bangladesh is allied with the US Because of China's overwhelming domination in South Asia, the US will have no friends (except India) in the region.
While Bangladesh's top concerns are sanctions and investment, the US wants to ensure its security in the in the Indo-Pacific area amidst the current great power rivalry. In order to accomplish this, the US plans to sign two defense agreements with Bangladesh that it hopes will strengthen military ties through enhanced intelligence sharing and exchange of logistical and technological support.
Bangladesh must pursue its policies to enhance 'mutual understanding' with America and become a trustworthy ally of the United States because the US is Bangladesh's single largest export market for ready-made garments (RMG), accounting for 83 percent of total exports.
The US is also Bangladesh's top source of Foreign Direct Investment.
Bangladesh should retain "strong connections" with the United States for two reasons: investment and the Rohingya crisis.
Bangladesh seems to have followed this strategy at the recent partnership dialogue held in March.
It's worth noting that Bangladesh aspires to be a South Asian economic miracle.
As a result, it is dependent on the United States and the European Union to maintain the current rate of rapid economic growth. Bangladesh is not a threat to the United States.
Bangladesh is a firm believer in international friendship.
Bangladesh could become a trusted ally of the US in the region.
Yamada specialises in Bangladesh affairs
A version of this article appears in the print on May 20, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.