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Bangladesh Comes into US Focus on South Asia: SCMP

India’s neighbours want independent relations with America, not just counterbalancing China

According to an analysis by the South China Morning Post, the greater engagement of the United States with Bangladesh in recent times is part of its attempt to find partners for its Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS), especially aimed at countering China.

Nevertheless, according to the Hong Long newspaper, other South Asian states want better ties with the US, regardless of their relations with India.

The visit of US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun to Dhaka this past week was seen as part of Washington's effort to increase its exposure in South Asia, writes Pranay Sharma in the review entitled "South Asian nations come into view as the US honors its Indo-Pacific strategy."

The visit took place, the analyst adds, “at a time when China has increased engagement with countries in the region through its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, which promises billions of dollars of investments in infrastructure projects, as well as enhanced trade and defence ties.”

Following US Defense Secretary Mark Esper's phone conversation with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in September, Biegun 's three-day stay in Dhaka illustrates America's enthusiasm for the geographical position of Bangladesh. "Bangladesh is seen by the US as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific zone," Biegun was quoted as saying.

Usually, high-level visits from Washington to Dhaka in the past have typically taken place just before US presidential elections, the Post quoted Shahab Enam Khan, professor of international relations at Jahangirnagar University, as saying. Then-US Secretary of State John Kerry came in August 2016, his predecessor Hillary Clinton visited in May 2012, and now Biegun, barely a fortnight before the November election.

The context of Biegun’s visit – aside from the current US administration trying to win the support of the 200,000-plus Bangladeshi-Americans, who are traditionally Democratic Party supporters – had more to do with finding partners for Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy. “Certainly, counterbalancing China would be the rules of engagement,” Khan was quoted to have said.

Biegun 's visits are part of a larger trend in US policy to engage not only with India in South Asia, but also with other smaller countries in the region, according to the Post.

Ashley J Tellis, Tata Chair of Strategic Affairs at Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was said to have clarified that as a complement to the deepening relations the US has with India, the US aims to develop strong partnerships with all the main South Asian states.

Although both the US and India have made common cause to meet the challenges raised by the increasing presence of Beijing in the region, the other nations of South Asia do not want their relationship with Washington seen only through the lens of links between the US and India, the Post observed.

“The smaller South Asian states want better relations with the United States independent of India’s relations with the US and also independent of India’s relations with them,” Tellis was quoted to have said.

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