The Indian media says the United States is desperate to build a naval presence in Bangladesh as a strategy to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.
The Times Now ran an investigative report titled “U.S. eyes Bangladesh” on May 31 saying the Americans want to use Chittagong port to park a large part of its Seventh Fleet. The report was followed a debate organised by the TV channel styled “America eyes Bay of Bengal “.
It suggested the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recent visit to Bangladesh “was much more than a friendly gesture’ and she discussed military co-operation with Bangladeshi officials last month.
“America… wants to park its seventh fleet in the country – for its strategic interests. Worried by increasing presence of Chinese naval bases in the South China Sea – America now eyes a counter strategy – as it wants an overall presence in Asia – right from Japan to its Diego Garcia base in the Indian Ocean,” said the report by the 24-hour English news channel.
Times Now’s Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami moderated the debate titled “America Eyes Bay of Bengal” based on its own investigation.
The discussants were The Heritage Foundation’s Senior Research Fellow Lisa Curtis, Former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Veena Sikri, Member, National Executive Committee, BJP Sheshadri Chari, Strategic Affairs Analyst Mahroof Raza, Times Now’s Consulting Editor Wasbir Hussain and Centre for Strategic Research & Analysis (CESRAN) Representative Antony Ou China.
The report said the Americans were increasingly worried over the string of pearls of Chinese bases across the South China Sea and their naval might spreading all across Asia – putting America behind.
Spokesperson for the United States Department of State Victoria Nuland was quoted by the Times of India as saying, during the Bangladesh visit of Hillary Clinton no talks took place regarding the issue.
But Priscilla Huff, Washington Correspondent of Times Now, said: “The US State Department is confirming the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did discuss a future home for the Seventh Fleet when she was in Bangladesh.”
The Seventh Fleet currently has homes in Japan, Guam and Singapore, she added.
“The Bangladeshi Government remaining extremely tightlipped over the recent developments – as they have internally decided to deny it on record – fearing backlash from their own hardliners,” said the Times Now report.
But Bangladesh’s High Commissioner to India told Time Now that he was “not I aware of any such requests to the best of my knowledge”, when he was asked by TV reporter whether the US had asked to allow Chittagong port to be used as their naval base and whether Bangladesh will allow it.
“Bangladesh is not willing to comment on record even offering explanation to deny the developments. This Clinton visit is a more strategic one than just a friendly one- the Indian establishment caught unawares–as this base could cast a shadow on India’s own strategic interests,” the report concluded.
Lisa Curtis in the debate said she did not see any reason for US to go for any deal in Asia without consulting with India beforehand.
The debate claimed Bangladesh’s Ministry of Home Affairs held secret meeting with the US representatives on issues like containing militancy, extremism, terrorism and even guarding the border with India.
Consulting editor of the television Wasbir Hussain said he had information from Bangladesh that the talks between Bangladesh and US were going on since 2008. US proposed to survey Bangladesh’s airfield and also wanted to have its marine fleet reach till inland river port Narayanganj.
He claimed to have talked with Bangladeshi commandos in the military and members of parliament.
The discussants questioned whether the Awami League government would risk such a decision with the next national election so close to come.
Some of them claimed the discussion was being held unofficially under the pretexts of different occasions.