BECA agreement and its impact on South Asian countries

Just a week before the US election, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper paid a surprise visit to three South Asian countries. The tour begins in India. Following the formal talks, five agreements were signed between the two sides on October 26, with the Basic Exchange and Co-operation Agreement (BECA) on defence co-operation being of paramount importance.

 According to the agreement, India will be able to get all the intelligence information obtained through US satellites. This will greatly reinforce the capability of the Indian military to target rivals using missiles and drones in armed conflict. There has also been discussing of supplying Apache helicopters and drones to India. 

In two-plus-two talks with the Indian Foreign and Defense Ministers, the two sides pledged cooperation in tackling the Chinese threat. At a news conference after the chats, US leaders sharply criticized China.

Indian Foreign Minister Jayashankar said security issues in the Indo-Pacific region were at the forefront of the talks. The two officials also met with India's National Security Adviser and the Prime Minister.

The US ministers left India for Sri Lanka the next day, October 26. Their hospitality in that country, however, was not as warm as in India. Sri Lanka has extensive economic relations with China. Rajapaksa brothers of the ruling party are also known as allies of China. The strategic port of Hambantota has been given for a long-term lease to China.

However, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister conveyed his country's commitment to maintaining peace and good relations with all. He was scheduled to return to the country after a visit to Indonesia via the Maldives. Added to the list at the last minute is Vietnam, which is in tension for China's growing power and aggressive attitude.

The purpose of the US ministers' visit to India and other countries is clearly to draw attention to China's growing influence in the region. That was the main theme of US Deputy Secretary of State, Biegun's visit to India and Bangladesh about two weeks ago. Through BRI projects and huge investments, China has greatly increased its influence in the countries of Asia and Africa along with the Indian Ocean.

As a result, US influence on this region is declining. This growing impact of China on regional countries has become a headache for the United States. The US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) project is an attempt to curtail China's influence. Due to its conflicting relations with China, India is a voluntary ally of the United States in this agenda.

On the other hand, India fears that China is encircling India through the BRI project. At the same time, China's recent exhibition of military might on the Ladakh border has ensued deep concern in India. At this time, the signing of the ‘BECA’ agreement after a long wait will have to be considered on this point.

Because India needs a strong ally as opposed to a strong China. The Indo-US military cooperation agreement is taking the anti-China Quad, including Japan and Australia, one step further.

During the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union in the early 1970s, the United States reached out to China to make the party heavier. In addition to economic reforms, China has made incredible economic progress over the next 30 years with US assistance.

Continuing this trend in the new century, China has become a rival to the United States in terms of global influence. Preparations are underway for a new Cold War between the two rivals, although the characters in this Cold War are entirely different.

The two countries are each other's largest trading partners. Just as to keep Chinese factories afloat needs the US market, so should ordinary consumers in the United States could not think of a single day without Chinese-made consumer goods.

Tensions on the Ladakh border are unlikely to escalate into an all-out Sino-Indian war. Because neither of the two countries has a slim chance of winning such a conflict. 

India is weaker than China in terms of military strength, on the other hand, the region is far from China's main centre, so the supply line is much longer than India's. As a result, it will be difficult for China to keep arms and logistics uninterrupted in the long-term conflict.

The same thing is also substantial for the Indian Ocean. China is ahead in overall naval power, but the balance of power in the Indian Ocean theatre is not the same. For India, it is a territorial sea, but China will have limited access to naval power in the Indian Ocean via the Malacca Strait. 

In this theatre, China's naval power must be as career-dependent as the United States, which China has not yet achieved. Even if China acquires this capability, it may be difficult to maintain a supply line for this fleet in a conflict-ridden environment, avoiding Indian naval bases in the Andaman Islands. 

The Chinese naval facilities in Karachi and Djibouti do not seem to be enough. This is where Myanmar's great importance to China lies. Myanmar could become the lifeline not only of the navy's supply line but also of China's trade system in times of crisis.

The deep-sea port under construction in Rakhine State is set to become an important hub for Chinese imports and exports. Myanmar's geographical location is making China dependent on it on the one hand, and on the other hand India, even in negotiations with the United States, is taking advantage of Myanmar.

What will be the position of small south Asian country, Bangladesh in this increasingly visible equation? Friendship with everyone?  What if the so-called friends in the biggest crisis do not stand by? 

The reality is that the field of alternative possibilities for Bangladesh is getting narrower and narrower. Bangladesh's position in regional geopolitics is not very cohesive. The more important Myanmar becomes for China, the less important Bangladesh becomes.

There are no signs that India will be the side of Bangladesh by excluding Myanmar. Bangladesh has multidimensional relations and interests with these two conflicting countries, which Bangladesh cannot ignore.

 In the context of the Greater Cold War, the interests of marginalized countries like Bangladesh are seldom considered from a geopolitical point of view. As a result, the unwelcome victims of the new Sino-US Cold War could be the 1.1 million Rohingya stranded on the southeastern tip of Bangladesh.

However, in the Indo-Pacific region, the power struggle between China and the United States is becoming obvious. Naturally, India will be on the side of the United States in this equation. But as an emerging power, India also wants the United States to be a key player in the Indian Ocean.

For the United States, such a complementary relationship may seem acceptable, even interesting.

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