The Geopolitics of Bangladesh’s Election: Why Global Powers are Watching Closely

The forthcoming national election in Bangladesh has garnered significant attention from several global powers, including the United States, India, Japan, China, the European Union, and Russia. These nations have distinct geopolitical and economic interests in Bangladesh which has a critical position within South Asia.

The United States has maintained a partnership with Bangladesh, including support in the form of development assistance, humanitarian relief, and security cooperation. The United States also seeks to maintain stability and democracy in Bangladesh since it is considered a significant partner in South Asia, which has strategic relevance for U.S. interests. The United States expresses apprehension about the next election in Bangladesh, as it seeks to see an electoral process that is both credible and equitable, accurately reflecting the collective aspirations of the Bangladeshi people. The United States has called for both the administration and the opposition to actively participate in constructive discourse to foster a peaceful and inclusive election process. Nevertheless, the United States aims to mitigate China’s expanding presence and impact in Bangladesh, particularly in the domains of infrastructure and energy.

India is Bangladesh’s biggest neighboring country and a significant strategic partner within the South Asian region. India regards Bangladesh as a significant ally within the framework of its “Neighborhood First” and “Act East” policies, which are designed to enhance regional integration and expand its influence. India perceives Bangladesh as a strategic buffer in countering China’s territorial expansion in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. India is confronted with security challenges emanating from rebel groups active in its northeast, a few of whom have previously sought refuge and assistance from Bangladesh. Additionally, it is worth noting that India has the position of being Bangladesh’s key trade partner, exerting significant influence in terms of investment, loans, and contributions towards development initiatives. India has furthermore granted Bangladesh privileged access to its market and bestowed duty-free privileges on its exports. India aims to strengthen its trade and connectivity with Bangladesh, primarily focusing on sectors such as energy, infrastructure, transportation, and digital services.

China sees Bangladesh as a crucial element within its “String of Pearls” strategy, which seeks to safeguard its access to energy resources and markets by establishing a network of ports and infrastructure around the periphery of the Indian Ocean. China is actively pursuing the objective of undermining India’s prevailing dominance and influence in the South Asian region via the cultivation of stronger diplomatic relations with Bangladesh. Also, Japan considers Bangladesh to be an essential collaborator in its “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” policy, which aims to foster stability and economic well-being in the area by emphasizing connectivity, high-quality infrastructure, marine security, and adherence to the rule of law. Japan’s stance on Bangladesh’s election is almost the same as the US’s and also seeks to offset China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has increased its presence in Bangladesh.

Russia is a significant collaborator with Bangladesh in several domains, including energy, military, and nuclear technology. Russia has assisted Bangladesh in the construction of its first nuclear power facility, located at Rooppur. In addition to providing military equipment, including fighter aircraft, helicopters, tanks, and missiles, Russia has also provided Bangladesh with such gear. Bangladesh has shown a neutral position about the Russia-Ukraine conflict, refraining from aligning itself with either side. The European Union has refrained from formally articulating its stance about the next elections in Bangladesh. The EU serves as the primary export market for Bangladesh, particularly in the realm of ready-made garments. The EU has also conveyed concern over the preceding elections in 2018 and 2014, with instances of violence and irregularities and accusations from the opposition parties. The EU has expressed a preference for engaging with a government that demonstrates a commitment to upholding these principles and effectively responds to the concerns raised by the global community.

The United States has conveyed its concern over the impartiality of the forthcoming elections. The United States has expressed its intention to enforce visa restrictions on those who engage in activities that disrupt or interfere with the electoral process. The United States holds the belief that the establishment of a democratic and accountable government in Bangladesh is of the utmost importance for ensuring its stability and prosperity within the region.  Nevertheless, the United States perceives the Awami League as a prominent political party. The United States seeks to encourage Bangladesh to distance itself from its pro-China position, actively engage in the Indo-Pacific strategy, and publicly condemn China’s actions in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. The United States also seeks Bangladesh’s robust engagement in denouncing Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. The United States is exerting pressure on Bangladesh about several matters, including the impending election. However, it is worth noting that the United States places significant importance on its bilateral ties with India, as it serves as a strategic counterbalance to China. India regards Bangladesh as a significant ally and endeavors to enhance its regional integration and outreach efforts.

Bangladesh perceives the involvement of the United States in its political affairs as a complex issue. The United States serves as the largest export destination for Bangladesh, particularly for its dominant export sector, RMG. The United States is the primary contributor to the humanitarian response to the Rohingya refugee crisis, offering substantial aid to both the refugees and the host populations in Bangladesh. The United States had further allocated a total of 140 million vaccine doses to Bangladesh, surpassing the quantity granted to any other nation globally. The United States and Bangladesh engage in collaborative efforts on diverse security matters, including counter-terrorism, maritime security, and peacekeeping. However, Bangladesh exhibits caution in response to the United States’ critique and exertion of influence over its internal political affairs, particularly about matters about human rights, democracy, and governance. The United States has implemented sanctions on the RAB of Bangladesh due to its involvement in human rights abuses and extrajudicial murders. Also, Bangladesh has been barred from the Summit for Democracy by the United States, citing concerns about its democratic regression while other autocratic countries were invited.

The BJP, the governing party in India, has a range of aims and objectives that it endeavors to accomplish by extending assistance to the Awami League in Bangladesh. The BJP aims to uphold its strategic and economic concerns in Bangladesh. The BJP also aspires to enhance its reputation among the Bangladeshi populace, which has experienced a sense of detachment due to certain policies and rhetoric pursued by the party. These include the Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Register of Citizens, and the anti-Muslim remarks made by some party officials. In reaction to India’s Citizenship Amendment Bill, several Bangladeshi ministers in 2019 chose to cancel their prearranged official visits to India. Nevertheless, Bangladesh is confronted with security challenges arising from active rebel groups in the northeast. Bangladesh has seen a growing prevalence of anti-India sentiments among its population, mostly attributed to the perceived anti-Bangladeshi actions of the Indian government, the emergence of Hindutva ideology in India, and India’s hesitance in resolving water issues about shared rivers with Bangladesh.

The BJP also aims to prevent any potential instability or violence in Bangladesh, since it has the potential to have repercussions in India and impact its diplomatic ties with other nations in the region. The BJP is making efforts to persuade the United States to extend its support to Bangladesh in the next election. This endeavor involves emphasizing the advantages that would arise from the establishment of a stable administration in Dhaka, which would be mutually beneficial for both India and the United States. The BJP is placing significant emphasis on highlighting the shared common values and interests between India and the United States. These include the promotion of democracy, human rights, security, and development in the South Asian region. The BJP posits that the Awami League is inclined towards fostering collaboration with India and the United States in matters about both regional and global affairs rather than other political parties, which are more aligned towards China.

China has strategically embraced a pragmatic stance towards the internal political affairs of Bangladesh, effectively establishing and sustaining communication channels with both the ruling administration and opposition parties. China has restated its commitment to non-interference in the internal affairs of Bangladesh while expressing its appreciation for the country’s chosen path of development and democratic system. China views the election in Bangladesh as an internal matter of the nation and has conveyed its support for the sovereignty and independence of Bangladesh. China has expressed its commitment to support Bangladesh in safeguarding its election process from foreign influence or coercion. China aims to contest the prevailing dominance and influence of India and the United States in the South Asian region via the cultivation of stronger relations with Bangladesh. Bangladesh regards China as a significant ally in matters of economic cooperation, security, and developmental initiatives. China has been contributing to the negotiation process with Myanmar for the Rohingya repatriation and assisting Bangladesh in various international forums.

Bangladesh has endeavored to maintain a delicate balance in its diplomatic engagements with China, the United States, India, Japan, and Russia. Bangladesh aims to maintain a neutral stance in the geopolitical confrontation between major countries, prioritizing its own national interests and development objectives. Bangladesh is committed to upholding its sovereignty and independence and is determined to counteract any foreign intervention or influence in its domestic affairs.

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma
Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma
Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma is a Research Associate at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD). She is a research analyst in security studies. She obtained her Master's and Bachelor's in International Relations from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. She can be reached at ash77662[at]