Should Bangladesh join the US-led IPEF or not?

The new economic alliance, Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, known in short as IPEF, has been unveiled by US president Joe Biden and was signed in Tokyo on 23 May during Biden’s first Asia tour. There are 12 regional counterparts that are the founding members of the alliance: Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, alongside the US. Several countries like Myanmar were not included in the IPEF launch. Laos and Cambodia also did not join. Taiwan was interested initially but eventually did not join.

It is said that these 12 countries generate 40 per cent of the global GDP. So we could say IPEF is one of the biggest economic alliances so far.

What is the aim of this framework? Does it have any political ambitions or only solid economic alliances? A representative of the US embassy in Dhaka said in a press release that the digital economy, graduating to eco-friendly energy, a sustainable supply system and anti-corruption efforts have been emphasised in the new economic framework to face the economic challenges in the 21st century.

President Joe Biden said he wants to consolidate American global engagement and IPEF is part of that effort. When Donald Trump was in power, many in his administration blamed multilateral free trade for US' economic problems including unemployment and hurting the manufacturing sector. To counter Trump’s inward drive, President Biden comes on the stage of Indo-Pacific with this alliance, his own brainchild.

Some experts see IPEF as a counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) a global infrastructure development strategy by the Chinese government in 2013. And it’s an important geographical tool to contain China in the Indo-Pacific region.

China says IPEF is nothing but just an empty shell. It will not lead to any concrete results.

According to a report by the South China Morning Post, US Secretary of Commerce Gina Marie Raimondo stated that they see IPEF countries as the major manufacturing hub beyond China. But experts say that this statement is not pragmatic at all. Because the US is the major export market of most of the Asia-Pacific countries and China is their major supply chain partner. So how do these Asia-Pacific countries establish themselves as the manufacturing hub without China’s contribution, as China is the largest trading partner for more than 120 countries? So, it is not possible to establish a major manufacturing hub in that region without China. And Asia Pacific countries hope IPEF will help them to export more to the US market, not to hurt China. Out of 10 countries, there are seven countries from ASEAN. They have different development philosophy from the western countries. We still do not know the future of this economic initiative. No activities have been initiated by this framework. Last September, a new partnership called AUKUS was announced by the US with Australia and Britain for a strong Asia Pacific region. We have not seen any cooperation in the security, diplomatic, and defence area that it aimed for. And another US-led alliance in the region is Quad. Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister of Japan was the chief patron of this strategic security dialogue. But analysts say Quad ‍is nothing but an ornamental alliance.

And now the big question is, should Bangladesh join IPEF. The US invited Bangladesh to jump on the bandwagon, but Bangladesh is not decided yet, as the country has no previous experience with any big economic group.

And China, one of the biggest trading partners of Bangladesh, thinks Dhaka should not join the US-led platform. Li Jiming, the ambassador of China in Dhaka, said at a seminar here on 8 June, that peace and stability are very much needed for the development of this region. He said, "We are in a good condition for the last decade without AUKUS, QUAD, or IPEF. I firmly believe we will do better in the future. So, Bangladesh should be cautious about joining these platforms."

Bangladesh is an independent and sovereign country. No country can pressurise Bangladesh to accept its agenda. Hopefully, Bangladesh will take the right decision for the sake of its own interest and policy.

M Humayun Kabir, the former ambassador of Bangladesh to the US, told Prothom Alo in the last week of May that the country has to proceed only after completing various internal reforms like the tax system, curbing corruption, etc. The big question, he thinks, would Bangladesh agree to carry out these internal reforms?