The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

On paper at least, Bangladesh appears to be a good fit for BRICS membership.

Bangladesh’s foreign policy mantra of “friendship to all, malice towards none” has been challenged by shifting international dynamics. As alliances wax and wane, maintaining a neutral stance often seems unrealistic and impractical. Now, as Bangladesh expresses intent to join BRICS during a period of financial struggle, the country faces a crucial crossroads both economically and politically.

The motivation to pursue BRICS membership appears to stem not solely from economic aspirations, but rather from a strategic political perspective. The government is currently under pressure from developed nations regarding democracy, human rights, and election integrity. Could this move towards BRICS be an attempt to demonstrate that Bangladesh is not alone in confronting these issues?

Historically, Bangladesh’s economy has relied heavily on import and export trade. It is now caught in a tense stand-off between the Western bloc on one hand, and the prospective BRICS alliance of China and Russia on the other. If Bangladesh manages this challenge adeptly, it could potentially secure its interests through BRICS participation, while also maintaining trade and diplomatic relations with Western countries. However, using BRICS membership as a tool to undermine the West would likely prove a catastrophic miscalculation.

Bangladesh’s relationship with the West has provided various benefits, including import-export opportunities, investments, remittances, higher education, and immigration. Despite the global economic recession, U.S. and EU markets have significantly supported Bangladesh’s export earnings. Meanwhile, BRICS nations China and India supply almost half of Bangladesh’s total imports, causing a trade deficit.

However, BRICS membership could offer important benefits to Bangladesh, notably the possibility of obtaining loans at lower interest rates and strengthening relationships with member countries, potentially boosting trade and investment. Moreover, if BRICS introduces an alternative currency or trade system in the future, Bangladesh’s position could be significantly strengthened.

Established in 2009 by Brazil, Russia, India, and China, with South Africa joining in 2010, BRICS represents a formidable alliance of emerging economies. Currently, the BRICS countries collectively contribute more to the global GDP than the G7 economies. These countries also exert substantial influence on regional and international events, leading economists to view this alliance as particularly influential.

The BRICS countries argue that the global economy suffers under the unilateral system of the Western world. Amid sanctions and U.S. restrictions on the SWIFT system, BRICS is advocating for expanded use of local currencies in international trade and transactions among its members and trading partners, actively seeking alternatives to the U.S. dollar.

Despite being primarily an economic alliance, BRICS is sometimes perceived as a Western or anti-U.S. alliance. With Russia and China — the U.S.’s primary political and economic competitors — being active members, this perception is not unfounded. In this geopolitical landscape, Bangladesh finds itself in an interesting position. While the U.S. has introduced a new visa policy for Bangladesh, China has openly expressed support. Neighboring India, another BRICS member, also supports Bangladesh.

There are several countries, including Bangladesh, interested in joining BRICS. However, prospective members must consider the potential repercussions. Russia, currently embroiled in its bloody invasion of Ukraine, and China, frequently accused of economic aggression, are both part of BRICS. Moreover, BRICS expansion policies are not yet solidified, presenting potential risks.

While BRICS membership could offer new financing opportunities for Bangladesh, the country’s experiences with alliances like SAARC, BIMSTEC, and D-8 serve as reminders that benefits are not guaranteed. Therefore, in navigating towards BRICS, Bangladesh must proceed with caution, efficiency, and a balanced approach — maintaining strategic participation alongside strategic distance.

Athar Noor is a political analyst. He frequently writes about politics and international relations, particularly as they relate to the Middle East. Athar holds a Master's degree in Islamic theology and literature from the Islamic University of Dhaka. Athar is currently attending the University of Chittagong in Chattogram, Bangladesh, studying International Relations.