Through a video message on last Wednesday, Prime Minister of Japan Mr. Shinzo Abe announced the plan to revise the pacifist constitution by 2020. Thus indicating the days of pacifist Japan are all but over. Japan is set to return to the power play of Geo-politics since World War II. It was expected since the passing of Security bill in 2015, and later the victory of Mr. Abe in the Upper house election in 2016. This posture, which will undoubtedly reshape the political spectrum of the Pacific theater, consequently, will make China more uncomfortable.
Now how this assertiveness of Japan can have impact on Bangladesh? Back in 2014, Mr. Abe visited Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the countries which have strong ties with China. Bangladesh has strong partnership with China in the field of defense, who considers Bangladesh as a key strategic partner in the region. But growing Chinese influence over Bangladesh, the 9th most populous country of the globe and an emerging economy does not necessarily mean a disadvantage for Japan there.
Since establishing diplomatic relations in 1972, Bangladesh always found Japanese assistance in various fields financially. Japan has been the largest donor to Bangladesh since then. According to a study conducted by Pew Research Center, almost 71% of Bangladeshis share positive opinion on Japan. Bangladesh remains the 11th largest export market for Japan, and imports from Bangladesh makes up 26% of the total imports by Japan from Least Developed Countries, second only to Cambodia. By 2004, Japan became the fourth largest source of Foreign Direct Investment for Bangladesh. According to a JETRO survey, Japanese companies rated Bangladesh as the most lucrative investment destination both in manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors.
The coast guard of Bangladesh is procuring vessels from Japan, which indicates Japan’s target of getting a higher market share in military hardware where China is the biggest player.
The visit of Mr. Abe in 2014 to Bangladesh made Japan’s strategic intentions visible. In that visit Japan traded UNSC non-permanent membership seat with investment with Bangladesh. Prior to the visit, the Japanese Prime Minister announced $4 billion in economic assistance for both a deep-sea port and a large coal-fired power plant. The plan for deep sea port might underline Japan’s intentions to compete Chinese influence in the region.
Japan, as a major non-NATO ally, is a key to deter Chinese influence in places of strategic interests. It is reported that India, USA and Japan are also planning to hold a naval drill in the Bay of Bengal this July. Japanese partnership with India, coupled with the recent logistics pact between India and US this could significantly challenge China’s interests in Bangladesh and Myanmar. The growing military relationship between India and USA raises concerns in Beijing. With the ongoing disputes in the South China Sea over territorial claims, this looks like a worry for the Beijing establishment. Further reading: Japan shares opposing views with China.
Nevertheless the revision of pacifist constitution will help in the expansion of Japan’s defense industries, which will help to reduce the burden of USA’s defense in the Pacific theater. Thus, USA will definitely appreciate any Japanese maneuvers in South Asia to keep the rising China in check, which will be complementary to USA’s Asia pivot. Japanese maneuvers in Bangladesh, if extended to military development, will only surmount pressure over Chinese clouts in the region.