New Delhi: Economic imperatives sometimes make countries take decisions that could make sovereignty issues take a back seat, Bangladesh foreign secretary, Mohammed Shahidul Haque said Thursday.
A country of Bangladesh’s size needs to link itself with countries in the world to reap economic benefits, Haque said during a discussion on China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative at the India Economic Summit in New Delhi.
Bangladesh is one of the several South Asian countries in India’s periphery that had signed up for the Belt and Road Initiative unveiled by China in 2013, aimed at building a modern-day “Silk Road", connecting China by land and sea to Southeast Asia, Pakistan and Central Asia, and beyond to the Middle East, Europe and Africa. At a summit in Beijing in May, Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged $124 billion for the plan, but it has faced suspicion in Western capitals that it is intended more to assert Chinese influence than Beijing’s professed desire to spread prosperity.
India has been opposed to the project as one strand of it—the China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor (CPEC)—runs through disputed Kashmir. New Delhi had cited “sovereignty issues" while declining to be part of the international conference hosted by Beijing.
According to Haque, the way sovereignty has been exercised by states has undergone a change. “Now we see that the way it (sovereignty) was initially conceived—that the state will exercise its sovereign rights over many things—we don’t see that anymore, because economic issues sometimes also dictate as to how much sovereignty you will exercise or how much you will let it go," he said.
“In the case of Bangladesh, we realised that sovereignty is important. We are geographically small and in order to overcome that limitation, we have to link ourselves with the rest of the world... One of the issues that we attach huge priority to is how to overcome our limitations. It is not by holding onto sovereignty issues but by opening up," the Bangladesh foreign secretary said.
“We cannot remain isolated in the name of sovereignty ...we have to go beyond by linking ourselves with our neighbours far and beyond. That is what we think would eventually bring benefit to us. We look at sovereignty and integration from a somewhat different angle ...sometimes we need to put sovereignty issues in the back seat and bring the economic integration in front," he said.
India has been making efforts to wean Dhaka away from China, the biggest supplier of defence equipment to Bangladesh for many years now. On Wednesday, India operationalized a $4.5 billion line of credit—its third and largest ever—to Bangladesh during a two-day visit to Dhaka by finance minister Arun Jaitley.
In recent years, China has been making inroads into countries in India’s neighbourhood—with major infrastructure projects, development aid and financial assistance.
India’s ties with Bangladesh have improved dramatically in recent years after India signed the land boundary agreement in June 2015—hanging fire since 1974. The conclusion of the pact was seen as a major confidence-building measure between the two neighbours.