Prospects of Indo-Bangla ties under India’s G20 presidency

The future of the global economy rests in Asia's hands. India and China are already ahead in this field. 

by Kamal Uddin Mazumder

India will host the G20 summit of the 20 industrialized and developing countries of the world on September 9–10. PM Hasina will join the summit at the invitation of her Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi. Bangladesh is the only South Asian nation to be included on India’s guest list.

India’s decision to invite Bangladesh as the only South Asian invitee shows how highly it views its close eastern neighbour and likely best friend in the region. The two leaders will meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit. The development of relations between India and Bangladesh shows that both nations have benefited from cordial relationships between the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League and the government of PM Narendra Modi. The fact that both countries’ general elections are set for 2024 gives the meeting additional weight.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on September 6 to discuss deals on connectivity, energy, food security and trade. [ Photo © AP]

The global future will undoubtedly be centered on Asia. India and Bangladesh are among the fastest-growing economies in Asia. There is no end to the curiosity of world powers about Bangladesh due to its important geographical location. Therefore, there is no doubt that Bangladesh is capable of playing an important role at the Asian and global levels. Bangladesh has all the potential to become an influential country in Asia, judging by its economy and population.

India’s invitation to Bangladesh as its guest demonstrates the importance that the nation places on its ‘best friend’ in the vicinity and immediate eastern neighbour. Bangladesh is crucially vital to India for three key reasons:

Largest trading partner in South Asia: Bangladesh became India’s greatest trading partner in South Asia between 2021 and 2022, and India is Bangladesh’s second-largest trading partner and its biggest export market in Asia. India exported commodities worth $14.58 billion and imported goods worth $1.8 billion in 2021–2022, for a total trade value of $16.38 billion between India and Bangladesh. In order to significantly improve economic and commercial ties between the two nations, they are also getting ready to sign the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. Bangladesh’s economy, which is among the fastest-growing in the world, will in the future be much more crucial to India.

Gateway for Northeast India: Bangladesh is well-positioned to give India easier access to its mainland and the Northeast region. The north-eastern states of Assam and Tripura would benefit if India used the Chattogram and Mongla ports, which Prime Minister Hasina has urged them to do on numerous occasions. The shared inland waterway network has also introduced a number of new protocol routes and ports of call for improved trade. The newly inaugurated Padma Setu is also expected to improve connectivity between the two countries.

A peaceful Bangladesh benefits the unstable northeast of India, which is prone to insurgencies. With its “zero-tolerance” approach to terrorism, Bangladesh has been an outstanding partner of India on security issues. Insurgents from the separatist militant groups in the Northeast (United Liberation Front of Assam) have been captured and turned over to India by Bangladesh on numerous occasions.

India’s Neighbourhood First and Act East Policies: The increasing strategic significance of the Bay of Bengal, heightened by China’s rising presence in this maritime space, has led India to bolster relations with the Bay littorals to ensure its preeminence in the Bay. Furthermore, as its western front remains troubled, India is increasingly trying to build stronger relations with its eastern neighbourhood to realize its Indo-Pacific aspirations. Bangladesh, which is located north of the Bay of Bengal and is India’s immediate eastern neighbour, is crucial to both of these endeavours.

India has felt an additional drive to cultivate its connection with Bangladesh, restoring age-old ties and creating new paths for collaboration, while China also strives to penetrate Bangladesh to acquire a firmer footing in the Bay area. It is interesting to notice that some of the most recent areas of collaboration between India and Bangladesh are in line with the G20 priorities for India. As the two nations’ relationship grows to newer and wider vistas, India-Bangladesh ties are anticipated to take center stage this year at the G20 Summit.

Climate change and disaster preparedness: “Green Development, Climate Finance, and Life” is one of the G20’s key areas under India’s Presidency. Climate change has been mentioned as a shared issue by the leaders of Bangladesh and India. Both nations pledged to work together on climate change, paying special attention to the Sunderban region, which is experiencing difficulties due to sea level rise brought on by climate change.

Renewable energy transition: As has already been mentioned, India’s G20 mandate places a high priority on energy transitions. By 2041, Bangladesh plans to produce 40% of its energy from clean sources. With numerous projects, such as the Friendship Pipeline and the Maitree Super Thermal Power Project, among others, India and Bangladesh have extended their collaboration in the energy industry over the past few years.

Cyber security: The digital economy is based on basic population-scale technology systems called Digital Public Infrastructures (DPIs), such as identity systems, social registries, and payment gateways. These enable the delivery of a wide range of governmental and private services to citizens at a significantly increased speed and scale. One of the areas of cooperation between India and Bangladesh is cyber security, which is a fundamental component of DPIs.

Making multilateralism better: India prioritizes reforming multilateralism within the G20 to foster representative, inclusive, just, and equitable multipolar international frameworks that are capable of solving today’s concerns. Bangladesh is a member of numerous multilateral organizations in India’s neighbourhood, such as SAARC, BIMSTEC, and IORA. Bangladesh’s support is, therefore, necessary if India’s G20 aspiration is to find a reflection in regional multilateral platforms.

India needs Bangladesh’s assistance as it works to influence the global agenda through the G20 in order to put many of these concepts into practice in its vicinity. In the long run, some of these emerging areas of collaboration may add pages to the “Golden Chapter” in India-Bangladesh ties. This will increase the credibility of its presidency.

Beyond bilateral ties:

In the wake of the upcoming elections, there has been considerable concern and anxiety about Bangladesh in the international arena. There will be a unique opportunity for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to address those concerns by talking to statesmen at the G20 forum.

A sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis is one of the top priority issues in Bangladesh. It is observed that the lack of grants and cooperation funds has now been reduced to a noticeable level. While participating in the G20 summit, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will draw attention to the Rohingya issue by meeting with important countries on the sidelines.

Apart from that, there is a golden opportunity for Bangladesh to strengthen commercial cooperation with developing countries. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will surely play an important role in the implementation of that opportunity. Bangladesh is currently going through a somewhat difficult time in the energy and financial sectors. It is now important for Bangladesh to garner the necessary cooperation and assistance in both of these areas. Moreover, growth and development in agriculture, technology, human resource development, and exports are important for Bangladesh to effectively move towards its goal in the coming years.

Over the past decade, the G20 has played an important role in advancing international cooperation. As the world undergoes a highly polarized reaction, it is imperative to make global governance more equitable and holistically representative. Bangladesh once played an effective role in the leadership of the LDC states. Now Bangladesh has the opportunity to take that role a few steps further. Bangladesh can do that through the G20.

The future of the global economy rests in Asia’s hands. India and China are already ahead in this field. However, the real realization of the economic potential of Asia will be through the proper and comprehensive implementation of the economic potential of Bangladesh and other countries like it. Equality in global economic management is only possible through the economic rise of countries like Bangladesh at the global level.

Kamal Uddin Mazumder, Security and strategic affairs analyst, Dhaka, Bangladesh.