“We neither have any permanent friend nor any permanent foe. Only our interest is everlasting. And it’s our duty to live according to our interest”- the historic statement by the former UK president Lord Palmerston on foreign policy has become immoral in the history of international politics. In a real sense, there is no permanent friend or foe in politics, only self- interest is everlasting. That’s why, for the sake of self- interest the United States and former Soviet Union was united during the Second World War. And after the world war, they were involved in cold war for about four decades. Similarly on the criteria of self- interest the bond formation between Bangladesh and China can be judged.
In 1971, the eastern part of Pakistan- “East Pakistan” gained independence from Pakistan through a bloody war of 9 month long, and debuted as a sovereign nation called “People’s Republic of Bangladesh”. During this bloody war, India and former Soviet Union supported Bangladesh for their geopolitical and geological interests; similarly China and the U.S supported Pakistan. There are several reasons why China supported Pakistan and opposed Bangladesh severely. Here are few of them, to help Pakistan secure their integrity protection, to prevent India’s and Soviet Union’s impact in South Asia and etc. In November-December, 1971 when 3rd war between India and Pakistan started, China didn’t interrupt thinking that if they do then Soviet Union would also help India. On the 16th of December 1971, the Pakistani military in Bangladesh surrendered to the India-Bangladesh group force.
After the liberation of Bangladesh, both China and Bangladesh had to face new political situations raised in South Asia. Bangladesh was the first nation of the 3rd world which gained freedom from another nation of 3rd world through a bloody war. In most of the nations of the 3rd world, there was the existence of separatist movement that’s why many nations felt discomfort with Bangladesh’s liberation. During the first stage of liberation, Pakistan opposed Bangladesh acutely and tried to include Bangladesh in them again. At such a moment, Bangladesh’s main concern was to firm the position on the world stage as an independent country. That’s why; Bangladesh gained state recognition from other nations and gained membership of the United Nations.
In this moment, Bangladesh felt the necessity of forming a bond with China. China is a recognized large power and closest nation to Bangladesh, that’s why Bangladesh wanted to gain recognition from them. Further, China was a permanent member of the United Nations, if Bangladesh wanted to gain membership, then they would need the permission of China along with other 4 nations. As a new war- torn nation Bangladesh wanted to stay safe from the cold war. And they even needed foreign help to reconstruct the country. That’s why, the “Awami League” government led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on one hand kept the bond intact with Soviet Union and India , on the other they were trying to normalize the relation with western countries and China. Above all, Bangladesh’s too much dependency on “India- Soviet Union” alliance wasn’t acceptable to some political parties and a part of the people and as a nationalist leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman also wanted to construct Bangladesh as a non- aligned nation.
On the other hand, because of the liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan, China’s image was being tarnished in the western world. Because, even though China gave tough statements against the “India- Soviet Union” alliance, they couldn’t do anything to help Pakistan to protect their integrity. China wanted to keep their image intact in the eyes of Pakistan. As there was duel in India-China, Soviet Union- China, China doubted Bangladesh to be a threat for the security of the southern border of China because both India, Soviet Union has an influence over Bangladesh. Above all, the liberation of Bangladesh with the help of India, Soviet Union was an indirect threat to the geographical integrity of China.
In China-occupied Soviet Union frontier “Sinkiang/Xinjiang” and in India frontier “Tibet” there was separatist movement which was supported by Soviet Union and India. They thought the liberation of Bangladesh with the help of these two nations can provoke the separatist movement. China thought, the separation of Bangladesh (which was East Pakistan once) from the mainland of Pakistan, can make the claim of Taiwan’s liberation from China bold.
Considering all these facts, China took a firm Anti-Bangladesh standing in the first few years of liberation. In August, 1972 Bangladesh officially applied for the membership of the United Nations. This proposal was raised in the UN Security council on 25th August. China used “VETO” to this proposal and accused Bangladesh of being the base of India’s expansionism and Soviet Union’s social imperialism. It was China’s first veto in the UN. China’s representative in the UN, Huang Hua stated two judgments which Bangladesh didn’t fulfilled. One is the withdrawal of foreign troops from Bangladesh and the other is rehabilitation of the prisoners of Pakistan. But it was partly a lie as Bangladesh withdrawn every Indian military in March, 1972.
China representative Huang Hua and Soviet Union’s representative Victor engaged in an argument about the inclusion of Bangladesh in the UN. Though China used to claim to the “Actual Representative” of the nations of 3rd world, they opposed Bangladesh which is a country of the 3rd world.
China’s anti-Bangladesh stand in the UN council upset Bangladesh a lot, but to make sure that China doesn’t become more hostile, Bangladesh refrained from criticizing Pakistan directly. Bangladesh could understand it really well that with the help of Soviet Union only, Bangladesh won’t be able to get membership of the UN. Because of hostile relationship with China, Soviet Union didn’t have that much influence over them. So, Bangladesh started to establish direct connection with China. For this purpose, Bangladesh’s eminent diplomat Khwaja Mohammad Kaysar was pointed as Bangladesh’s ambassador in Burma (presently Myanmar). Kaysar had already worked as an ambassador of Pakistan in China and he had close relationship with them.
Bangladesh’s foreign minister Abdus Samad Azad wrote a letter to the China president Chou En-Lai, and expressed his desire to have a neighbor- friendly bond with them. Along with this, they highlighted the contribution of Bengali politicians in the formation of China – Pakistan relation. Even after all this, China continued their anti-Bangladesh stand, and in 1973 they again opposed Bangladesh’s proposal of membership in the UN.
Though China diplomats indicated that, they don’t have any personal problem with Bangladesh but before the rehabilitation of Pakistani prisoners and bond reformation of Pakistan with India and Bangladesh, they would continue their stand. Further, Soviet Union’s armada was busy in clearing the mines and drowned ship in Chottogram and Mongla seaport. Which made China doubted that, there could be a permanent Soviet Union naval base in Bangladesh.
In 1974, there have been few meaningful changes in Bangladesh’s foreign policy. Firstly, in February, 1974 the countries of Middle East invited Bangladesh to a summit ‘Organization of the Islamic conference’ which held on Lahore, Pakistan, and under their pressure Pakistan let Bangladesh to in. Bangladesh’s President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman attended the summit and started to normalize the relationship with Pakistan. China found Bangladesh’s leaning towards Muslims countries positive. Secondly, in March 1974, the work of clearing mines and drowned ships in Chottogram and Mongla also concluded and Soviet Union’s armada left Bangladesh. Thirdly, in April 1974 a tripartite agreement was signed in Delhi, India between India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Through this agreement, they agreed the rehabilitation of Pakistani prisoners who were in Bangladesh and India, along with this Pakistan permitted the rehabilitation of Bangladeshi prisoners in who were in Pakistan. Above all, in June 1974 Pakistan’s president Zulfiker Ali Bhutto visited Bangladesh. Through this tour, the relationship between two countries started to reform.
In this situation, China moved from their anti-Bangladesh standing and behaved in a flexible way comparatively. In middle of 1974, terrible flood occurred in Bangladesh. And in August, 1974 China sent flood relief of about 1 million dollars to Bangladesh. In which, there was 5000 ton rice. China removed their objection about the inclusion of Bangladesh in the UN and as a result in September, 1974 Bangladesh gained the membership of UN. With this, the reformation process of China-Bangladesh relation started. Even though, China didn’t give Bangladesh state recognition by then.
But, in the middle of 1974, trade relation established between Bangladesh and China. For various reasons, Bangladesh was interested in forming trade relation with China.
Firstly, from 1971 Bangladesh had an incredible relation with India and Bangladesh used to import many Indian products. But with some of these products Bangladeshi consumers were not satisfied. So, China could have been a option here.
Secondly, Bangladesh used to import cement from India at that time. But these cements used to cost 50 dollars, whereas China expressed the desire to sell 20,000 ton cement to Bangladesh costing 35 dollars each. And China also agreed to send these stuffs through China ships which will help Bangladesh to reduce shipment costs.
Thirdly, at that time Jute was Bangladesh’s main export product. But, the demand of jute was decreasing in the world market, in 1974, Bangladesh couldn’t export enough jute. But in China, there was huge demand of jute and jute-made products. China wanted to buy jute from Bangladesh by giving more than the market value.
Fourthly, according to the agreement, Bangladesh needed to pay foreign exchange to India in exchange of importing Indian products. But during this time, the amount of foreign currency was very limited and at that time China wanted to do business by ‘Exchange practice’. In exchange of importing jute, jute-made products, leather etc from Bangladesh, China proposed to give Bangladesh rice and other essential products. Economically this was an attractive deal for Bangladesh.
Fifth, China could have played an important role in meeting fuel demand of Bangladesh. That time Bangladesh needed 1.5 million ton unrefined oil and lots of coal annually and China was interested in fulfilling the need.
Above all, this could have been a huge market for both the countries and that’s why both of them were interested in making a trade relationship. Further, China’s foreign help could have helped Bangladesh a lot at that time.
In this context, without giving state recognition and without having any diplomatic relation, Bangladesh and China started their trade relation which gradually increased with time. At that time, China even wanted to establish a commercial mission in Bangladesh. Bangladesh didn’t have any problem with this mission but they added the condition of state recognition to China. But even at that time, China didn’t want to give official state recognition to Bangladesh, as a result this mission failed.
In fact, the reason why Bangladesh wanted to establish relation with China was to decrease the dependency on India -Soviet Union alliance, moreover to decrease economical reliance on India. But Bangladesh didn’t have any intention of detaching the relationship with India or Soviet Union. In actual, Bangladesh’s intention was to balance between ‘India-Soviet Union’ alliance and ‘China- western countries’ alliance. Not to lean towards one side. Whereas, China’s intention was to separate Bangladesh from India-Soviet Union alliance completely, which was not possible for Bangladesh due to valid reasons.
In April 1975, two incidents occurred which concerned Bangladesh. Firstly, India experimentally started “Farakka Barrage”, due to which Bangladeshi people suffered from the fear of water crisis. Secondly, India took the possession of ‘Sikkim’, and this action of India created doubt in the mind of Bangladeshi politicians about India’s real intention regarding neighbor countries. China criticized both the actions of India and invited Bangladesh to their ‘Spring Trade Fair' held at the city of Canton, China. Even though, Bangladesh and China didn’t have any official relation then.
But nonetheless, Bangladesh sent a representative team consisting 4 people to the trade fair. This fair continued till May, 1975 and in that time, Bangladesh and China signed four commercial agreements. In the meantime, Bangladesh started to pressurize China to give state recognition to Bangladesh. China’s diplomats informed that, due to China’s internal political issues the state recognition giving process was on hold and they assured Bangladeshi officers to take a step soon.
In 15th August, 1975 Bangladesh’s president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman died in an assassination and as a result the politics of Bangladesh took a dramatic change. New military influenced government made by President Khandokar Moshtak Ahmed, separated Bangladesh from India-Soviet Union alliance and lean towards the western nations. China noticed the movement of Bangladesh government for two weeks and in 31 August, 1975 they give state recognition to Bangladesh. In 4th October, 1975 Bangladesh and China officially established their diplomatic relationship.