French President Emmanuel Macron has visited Bangladesh in a bid to “consolidate” his country’s Indo-Pacific strategy and counterbalance a “new imperialism” in a region where China’s influence is increasingly being extended.
“Based on democratic principles and the rule of law, in a region facing new imperialism, we want to propose a third way – with no intention to bully our partners or to lead them to an unsustainable scheme,” Macron, speaking in English, told Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday.
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The United States and China are competing for influence in the wider region, and Macron has pushed France as offering an alternative. The former colonial power still hold remnants of its empire as territories, including islands in the Indo-Pacific.
“Bangladesh is progressively retrieving its place on the world stage,” Macron said, speaking after he arrived in the capital, Dhaka, on Sunday after the Group of 20 (G20) summit in neighbouring India wrapped up.
He praised what he called “the tremendous success” of the South Asian country, a rapidly growing economy and the world’s eighth most populous nation with more than 170 million people.
Macron held talks with Hasina and visited a memorial to her father, Bangladesh’s first president, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, before returning to Paris.
Hasina said Macron’s “push for strategic autonomy aligns with our own foreign policy” as she spoke at a dinner to welcome him. “We find you to be a breath of fresh air in international politics,” she said.
Several Western governments have expressed concern over the political climate in Bangladesh ahead of general elections due before the end of January. Its ruling party dominates the legislature and runs it virtually as a rubber stamp.
The visit to Dhaka will also be “an opportunity to deepen the bilateral relationship with a country which is experiencing rapid economic development … and which seeks to diversify its partnerships”, the presidential Elysee Palace said.
Bangladesh to order 10 Airbus aircraft
Macron also said Bangladesh has committed to ordering 10 aircraft from Airbus, marking the South Asian country’s first deal with the European aircraft maker in a shift from its Boeing-dominated fleet.
French officials said the deal for the A350 wide-body airplanes, which is still being finalised, is with the national flagship carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines Ltd.
“I thank you for your trust in the European aerospace industry. And this commitment for 10 Airbus A350 is important,” Macron said in a statement to the media after meeting Hasina.
Biman Bangladesh has a fleet of more than 20 mostly Boeing planes, more than half of which are wide bodies, and some Dash 8 turboprops.
Mahbub Ali, Bangladesh’s junior minister for civil aviation, said the initial order would be for two Airbus planes.
“We have asked for 10 aircraft in phases. The technical committee is now evaluating. These aircraft will be used on new and old routes. Each country has Airbus and Boeing in its fleet. But we only have Boeing, not a single Airbus,” Ali said.
Biman Bangladesh made its request for more wide-body aircraft as travel is seeing a strong post-pandemic rebound. The carrier flies nonstop to 20 destinations worldwide, including Britain, Malaysia, Thailand and Canada.
Macron’s visit to Bangladesh follows a Pacific trip in July to the French overseas territories of New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea as well as a stopover in Sri Lanka, in which he outlined his Indo-Pacific strategy, aimed at “recommitting” France to the region.
On Sunday, Macron met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi. The meeting followed Modi’s visit to Paris in July.
The French presidency suggested that in the past six months, Macron had “done more about South Asia than in the space of a decade”.