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31 May 2014   09:15:08 PM   Saturday BdST A- A A+ Print this E-mail this

Paradigm Shift on Foreign Front

Two summits: two dimensions

Paradigm Shift on Foreign Front Two summits: two dimensions

There were two significant summits in Asia’s politico-diplomatic landscape on May 26—one staged in Delhi and the other in Tokyo. The former assumed the dimension of South Asian summit, with heads of state or government from all the SAARC member-countries save Bangladesh gathering in the Indian capital, while the latter was a bilateral summit meet between Bangladesh and Japan.  

The day itself held high importance in that it went down in history as a regime change took place in world’s largest democracy of the sort. Narendra Modi, who veritably mesmerized India’s one-billion-plus people on his election campaign trail tinged in theological stunt, was sworn in as Prime Minister. And that ended the latest of Congress regimes since the country’s independence through rout at the polls.           
In a noticeable coincidence, though, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had a summit meet with her Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, to forge “Japan-Bangladesh comprehensive partnership”. In the Delhi conclave, Bangladesh was represented by Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury. Matching with his gigantic popular mandate mustered through a landslide poll victory, Modi gave his swearing-in ceremony the dimension of a South Asian affair.  He also held bilateral talks with the SAARC leaders, including premier Nawaz Sharif of India’s rival neighbour, Pakistan.
Through such summit-level interactions, the new leader of Indian, which aspires to be a global power, tried to build rapport with the rulers of South Asian countries that, observers believe, would help, to a great extent, set the tone of his government’s role in external affairs as well as post-poll domestic politics. Considered from this point of view, Bangladesh missed the bus--even if for the time being—in adapting to the changes taking place on the regional canvas of geopolitics.                      
A question has cropped up in many minds: was there any distance manifest in terms party-to-party relations between the ruling Awami League and poll-triumphant Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that Modi led to the citadel of power in New Delhi? It’s a common knowledge that AL’s Indian counterparty is Congress, as both hold identical centre-of-left politics based on secularism. It had hardly any relation, whatsoever, with the BJP for the ideological difference. Many wonder whether or not the prime minister would have made a change in her schedule for Japan trip if it were Rahul Gandhi’s election triumph and investiture as PM.                
Foreign-policy analysts cannot say for sure, nor can Awam League, which way the Bangladesh-India ties could move with Modi at the helm in Delhi. Such uncertainty also marked the undertone of Sheikh Hasina’s reaction. The Prime Minister and Awami League chief, while talking to the press in Tokyo during her visit, expressed the hope that the new regime in India would ‘maintain the good relation’ existing between the two countries.
At a press conference Saturday on the outcome of her Japan tour, the PM expressed her optimism that the pending issues with India would be resolved as they have long been working to that end. The major issues include Land Boundary Agreement and Teesta water-sharing deal.
“We have worked with five governments of India. We have worked with them maintaining good relations,” she said. She said the outgoing Congress government of India took initiative but could not complete the process. They have taken the issue to parliament. “We hope we will be able to resolve the issue.”
She was, however, all praise for the outcome of her Tokyo trip that added a “new dimension” to the nice bilateral relationship. She cited Japan’s agreement to provide 6 billion US dollars to bankroll some mega-projects in Bangladesh. Ganges Barrage, underwater tunnel across the Jamuna River, parallel railway bridge with Bangabandhu bridge over the Jamuna, Dhaka Eastern Bypass and revival of the rivers surrounding the capital are among the dev schemes.   
Above all else, a close analysis of the PM’s Tokyo trip makes it clear that it has something to do with a paradigm shift in global geopolitics with the focus on Asia where three powerhouses co-exist. China, India and Japan bear intricate relationships with the two superpowers of the yesteryear—Russia and the United States. The US bid for building an Asian orbit of hegemony through the defense pact done with India during the Congress rule may not hold water in the changed situation. Washington may have to depend on an emboldened Japan and some other allies in its defense strategy for Asia. China, an aspirant superpower, on the other hand, is conspicuously trying to woo the Modi government to establish “a robust partnership".
 Chinese Premier Li Keqiang Thursday called up his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, and expressed his hope that the two Asian heavyweights would work towards "establishing a robust partnership". Mr Modi, who staged a diplomatic coup of sorts by getting Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the leaders of other SAARC countries to attend his swearing-in ceremony, told Li that China figured high in India`s foreign policy. "China always a priority in India`s foreign policy,`` the ministry of external affairs said. Li became first foreign head of a government to call up Modi after he was sworn in as the country`s 15th Prime Minister.
The new Indian Prime Minister underscored his government`s resolve to utilize the full potential of "our strategic and cooperative partnership with China``, and expressed his keenness "to work closely with the Chinese leadership to deal with any outstanding issues in bilateral relations by proceeding from the strategic perspective of our developmental goals and long-term benefits to our peoples.`` The two leaders agreed to maintain "frequent high-level interactions.``
Reasons of Beijing’s such high-voltage diplomatic interaction are far better understood than explained—apart from its global leadership ambition that conflicts with that of the USA, China recent locked horns with some neighbours, Japan being the principal one, over the control of South China Sea and its islands to maintain its naval might. In this context, an India with Modi in power should be the best choice for it to build a close partnership so that Delhi cannot fall in US orbit.                    
Narendra Modi, having faced a snub from Washington, is learnt to have forged an intimate relationship with the China. After he was refused visa by the US authorities for his contentious past, including the Gujarat riot killing many Muslim minority people, the now-mighty leader of India paid several visits to China.
Anyway, this context analysis amply predicts some interesting paradigm changes in geopolitics, diplomacy, defense and economic partnership. How Bangladesh plays in this high-stake game remains the moot question. Domestic politics and policies have a lot to do in this matter.            

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