President Emmanuel Macron was in Bangladesh on Monday in a bid to “consolidate” France’s Asia-Pacific strategy and counterbalance a “new imperialism” in a region where China’s influence is increasingly being extended.
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“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 told Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The United States and China are competing for influence in the wider region, and Macron has pushed France as offering an alternative.
“Bangladesh is progressively retrieving its place on the world stage,” Macron said, speaking after he arrived in the capital Dhaka on Sunday after the G20 leaders 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 and Hasina on Monday discussed a “commitment” from the country’s Biman airline to purchase 10 A350s from European aircraft maker Airbus, a potential contract that could be worth as much as $3.2 billion.
Biman had previously always bought aircraft from the US manufacturer Boeing, and the hope of a purchase from Airbus was “an important point”, Macron told reporters, alongside Hasina.
Macron held talks with Hasina on Monday and visited a memorial to her father, Bangladesh’s first president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
“We both hope that this new strategic move between Bangladesh and France will play an effective role in establishing regional and global stability and peace,” Hasina said Monday.
Several Western governments have expressed concern over the political climate in Bangladesh ahead of general elections due before the end of January, where the ruling party dominates the legislature and runs it virtually as a rubber stamp.
Macron’s visit follows a Pacific trip in July to the French overseas territory 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.
Macron met Sunday with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom he hosted in Paris in July, on the sidelines of the G20 in New Delhi.
The French presidency suggested that Macron in the past six months had “done more about South Asia than in the space of a decade”.