Clouds of Complexity in Bangladesh’s Strategic Airspace

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Assessments about Bangladesh indicate that the country may be dragged into a major strategic crisis, and recent developments seem to confirm these predictions. Visits to Bangladesh by Admiral Eileen Laubacher, the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States (US), and Donald Lu, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia,[1] as well as Qin Gang, the Foreign Minister of China,[2] suggest that Bangladesh could become one of the battlegrounds for US-China competition.

The developments are being discussed by the Bangladeshi media in the context of their strategic implications. Attention is drawn to the inclusion of an amendment to the Burma Act by the US Senate, which would authorize military spending. Essentially, this law aims to support pro-democracy forces fighting against the coup in Myanmar. In this sense, the new initiative by the US is significant, as the resistance war led by the National Unity Government has reached a critical stage, resulting in the coup losing control of 52% of the territory. Other allies such as the US and the UK continue to support the armed resistance in Myanmar. The National Unity Government is expected to evolve into a parallel government in Myanmar, with unofficial relations with most members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It is also expected that Western allies will recognize the National Unity Government as the legitimate government of Myanmar in the near future, as they seek to advance their agendas in Myanmar and strengthen their influence in neighboring countries.

Observers believe that major powers in countries along the Bay of Bengal are unwilling to compromise on their own agendas. The extent and depth of interests in the region are evident from China’s new Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s first overseas visit to Bangladesh. The depth of the conflict of interests between China and the US in the region was highlighted in an article written by Subir Bhowmik, a former regional correspondent for BBC and Reuters, on the day when Lu, the Deputy Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, left Bangladesh. In his article published in The Federal, Bhowmik stated the following:[3]

“The new year was marked by a new escalation in clashes between senior US and Chinese officials visiting Bangladesh and the Myanmar Army and rebel forces on Myanmar’s western border. The military junta in Myanmar used air power intensively and ruthlessly in these conflicts. The visits of Pentagon and US State Department officials to Bangladesh have fueled speculation that the US is actively considering the idea of imposing a no-fly zone over Myanmar, as in Bosnia, even if it does not directly intervene militarily to facilitate a return to democracy in Myanmar. It is thought that Bangladesh and India may need logistical support to enforce the no-fly zone. If the US implements the no-fly zone proposal, Bangladesh could be stuck in the middle of the Sino-US conflict.”

A Bosnian-style no-fly zone that NATO will enforce would help stabilize conflicts between civilians and ethnic armed groups. This could result in a similar outcome to the Myanmar Army’s defeat in Rakhine. The same may be true for the Provinces of Chin, Sagaing, and Kachin. Anti-government groups, the Arakan Army and Kachin Independence Army, have taken control of most of the provinces. The Myanmar Army continues to use air power to hold on to these states.

The bombing of Camp Victoria, co-managed by the Chinese National Front and Bamar PDF on the border with Mizoram State, India, has opened up the possibility of a massive influx of refugees into Mizoram, which is already home to more than 20,000 refugees. China’s concern is the destabilization of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor if the no-fly zone deals a major blow to the Myanmar Army.

The oil-gas pipeline, financed through Kyaukphyu Port, which is connected to China’s Yunnan Province, is being built along the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor. If the junta in Myanmar is overthrown and the Myanmar Army is severely weakened, the United States and its allies could block China’s land-to-sea access to the Indian Ocean. Because encircling China is considered an important strategic goal of the USA.

Many risks may arise if Bangladesh finally says “no” to the US. Because global economic institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are under American influence, and the United Nations and related institutions have Western influence. More than 80% of Bangladesh’s exports are carried out through these organizations. Bangladesh’s economy is fundamentally dependent on the coordination of the global system due to the country’s lack of significant energy resources and mineral reserves. Therefore, it is unclear whether Dhaka will act on the Sino-Russian axis by opposing the West or by joining it. However, it is not certain whether India will take a stand against the USA in Bangladesh. All these options may drag Bangladesh into political instability.

Moreover, the Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka gives a clear message that they will not accept the American presence in the Bay of Bengal, pointing out that Chinese influence may increase in Bangladesh. This is another scenario that could endanger Bangladesh.

As a result, parallel to the instability in Myanmar, Bangladesh also risks becoming a playground for the rivalry between the USA and China. It is possible to argue that any choice will have a certain cost.

[1] “What Donald Lu’s Visit Means for Bangladesh”, The Daily Star,, (Date of Accession: 27.02.2023).

[2] “What Was Behind the Chinese Foreign Minister’s Midnight Stopover in Bangladesh?”, The Diplomat,, (Date of Accession: 11.01.2023).

[3] “ঢাকার কৌশলগত আকাশে ঘনীভূত মেঘ”, Daily Nayadiganta,, (Date of Accession: 24.01.2023).

Dr. Md Mostafa FAISAL
Dr. Md Mostafa FAISAL, 2010 yılında Dhaka Üniversitesi Siyaset Bilimi bölümünden lisans ve 2012 yılında yüksek lisans eğitimini tamamladı. 2020 yılının Aralık ayında, Gazi Üniversitesi Kamu Yönetimi ve Siyaset Bilimi bölümünden doktorasını aldı. Dr. Faisal’ın, "Küresel Yönetişim Kapsamında Uluslararası Göç: Rohingya Mülteci Krizi Örneği", "Rohingya Refugee crisis: History of Persecution and Global Migration Governance", "Türk Siyaseti: Atatürk’ten Erdogan’a", "Bangladesh: Caretaker Government Past and Present" adlı 4 adet kitabı bulunmaktadır. Başlıca ilgi alanları, Asya çalışmaları, Güney Asya çalışmaları ve Uluslararası Göç ve Mülteciler’dir. Dr. Faisal iyi derecede İngilizce, Türkçe ve Bengalce bilmektedir.