DHAKA -- Bangladesh on Tuesday reacted sharply to comments from China's ambassador warning against Dhaka's possible participation in the U.S.-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad.
Beijing's representative in Dhaka, Li Jiming, on Monday had said the countries' relationship would suffer "substantial damage" if Bangladesh were to join the alliance alongside India, Japan and Australia.
Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A. K. Abdul Momen made his displeasure clear, telling reporters: "We are an independent and sovereign state. We decide our foreign policy. Any country can uphold its position. But we will take decisions considering the interest of people and the country."
Momen said none of the Quad members has approached Bangladesh about joining the grouping -- raising the question of why the ambassador brought it up in the first place. Li's remarks, Momen said, were premature.
The minister also said it was unusual for China to attempt to interfere in his country's affairs. "We did not expect it from China," he said.
But Li, speaking at an event organized by the Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (DCAB), had said Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe conveyed the same message during his recent visit to the South Asian nation.
The ambassador expressed Beijing's view that the Quad alliance is mainly designed to oppose China, saying this was why Japan joined the group. "We don't want any form of participation of Bangladesh in this alliance," the envoy stressed.
It remains unclear why Chinese officials have zeroed in on Bangladesh and the Quad, but the four powers in the grouping have not been shy about raising its profile. At a virtual Quad summit in March, U.S. President Joe Biden said it would be "a vital arena for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific" in the years ahead.
Li's other comments at the DCAB event were friendlier, offering Bangladesh more support to fight the COVID-19 pandemic with medical supplies, including oxygen. The country has recorded about 775,000 infections with roughly 12,000 deaths.
Bangladesh Air Force cargo planes are now in Beijing to pick up a gift of 500,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines. The vials are expected to reach Bangladesh on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Dhaka is in talks to buy 40 million to 50 million doses from China.
At the same event, the ambassador reiterated China's position on funding a billion-dollar Teesta River management project -- a serious need for Bangladesh as it looks to secure water supplies.
India and Bangladesh are locked in a dispute over the river. Despite repeated assurances from New Delhi, Dhaka has failed to seal a long-pending deal to obtain its fair share of the river's water, and blames its neighbor for unilaterally tapping the resource.