To Bangladesh, on business, urgently



After the G20 meeting, the French president decided to pay a two-day visit to the capital of Bangladesh. By the way, the last French leader who visited these regions in 1990 was Francois Mitterrand. In Dhaka, everything was just as we like and still remember: portraits of Macron and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the route of the motorcade, a colorful reception in the spirit of local traditions, and during the meetings on a yacht on the rather muddy Turag River, pirogues with brass bands sailed by and encouraged the negotiators.

Macron unveiled France’s Asia-Pacific strategy in 2018. Since then, he has already visited Mongolia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka. That is, he is grooming the «middle» countries of the region, making contacts and proposing prospective projects.

«We have just over 60 million people», says a French diplomat from the presidential delegation, «we can’t compete directly with China. And even if the U.S. is our ally, nothing prevents us from proposing to other countries in the region to diversify their alliances so as not to depend on just one partner».

The United States, of course, is pressing in the Asia-Pacific with its power. Behind the scenes in diplomatic circles it is called intimidation, i.e. the very fact of the presence of at least submarines, not to mention bases, impresses the leaders of the countries of the region. According to the French president, this is the first way or the first approach to the presence of major international players in the Asia-Pacific region.

The second way is the policy of ubiquitous China. It is to embed itself as much as possible in the economy of any country, as one of the Celestial Empire’s dogmas is: «If you own a territory economically, sooner or later you will own it geographically». Macron saw this clearly during his visit to Sri Lanka. China has put it in debt to such an extent that it will never be able to pay back that money. It will have to pay back in some other way.

«To a region facing a new imperialism, we are ready to offer a third way. Without brutal forceful solutions, without intimidation and without unsustainable economic situations. While respecting the sovereignty and autonomy of our partners», the French president said in Dhaka.

Roughly speaking, the approach is to help a country in the region to rise up and offer it an equal partnership. Therefore, France is looking for regional partners to whom such an option can be offered, but, of course, not just anyone. This is how it is happening in Bangladesh.

Specifically, the French Development Agency (AFD) signed a $200 million agreement to help 86 municipalities in Bangladesh, a quarter of all cities. This includes recycling waste, organizing drinking water delivery systems and rainwater harvesting. Over the past three years, AFD has organized a loan of $1.5 billion at an extremely low interest rate, and Bangladesh has become the largest recipient of the agency’s loans during this period.

The French calculation is as follows: Bangladesh is the eighth most populous country in the world (170 million). GDP growth in recent years is 7 percent, which is very good. Foreign exchange reserves are down and food price growth is 12 percent. Well, it’s like France. The IMF has given the country a €4.7 billion loan. The country is heavily dependent on the textile market and on remittances from the diaspora, and so is subject to conjunctural fluctuations. Despite this, GDP per capita is higher than in India, although India has a larger population. Nevertheless, the French have ranked Bangladesh as «developing». Promising sectors of development are agriculture, hydropower and renewable energy.

That is, in any case, investments have a chance not to burn out, at least immediately. Therefore, to attract Bangladesh to the ranks of more or less promising partners, French experts have developed several areas of cooperation.

For example, the country is under constant threat of flooding. If the ocean rises one meter (and pessimists believe this could happen as early as the 50s), one-fifth of the country, or an area the size of Greece, would be underwater. Macron promised Bangladesh to launch a separate satellite to monitor problem regions and respond quickly.

And to upgrade the fleet of local airline Biman, it will be supplied with 10 Airbus worth $3 billion. By the way, Biman traditionally flies on Boeing, and here Macron managed to get into someone else’s territory. But it did not work out with nuclear power plants. Russia is already building a plant in Bangladesh. The contract is worth $13 billion and 90 percent of it is financed by a Russian loan.

All these wonderful economic endeavors must be backed by political will and agreement to such a partnership. And the opportunities shouldn’t be overestimated either.

«All the concepts of France’s presence in the Asia-Pacific look very appetizing», says Emmanuel Véron, a specialist on modern China at the Institute of Oriental Civilizations, “but one must assess the forces and means we are putting into it. If we evaluate the potential of, for example, India in a 15–20-year perspective, the question arises: maybe the goal is not so close and accessible? There has been no such request for analysis from the Macron administration».

Historically, in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, France has been primarily interested in maritime trade routes and the security of its overseas territories. Now it is developing a new concept for its presence in the region. First and foremost, the French are certainly opening their arms to India, without which nothing will work. Recall at least the recent royal reception of the Indian prime minister in Paris.

Bangladesh in this frame is a very useful country that maintains excellent relations with both India and Indonesia. And since 2016, Bangladesh is bound by a Strategic Partnership Treaty with China as well. And a friend of my friend, as we know, is also my friend.