Bangladesh's ongoing construction of a deep-sea port in the south appears to be a critical point for Japan and India, with the QUAD members looking to challenge China's sway.
The Port of Matarbari, a Japan-funded project, will be located north of Sonadia on the Bay of Bengal. China was previously expected to construct a port in this prime location, but the plan was abandoned a few years ago.
India's apparent strategic win in a South Asian power game has earned Japan a spot as its tag-team partner. Experts are divided, however, as some view the move as Bangladesh government's scramble for finances, rather than a geopolitical game to begin with.
During his visit to India in March, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida highlighted the geopolitical significance of Matarbari, Bangladesh's inaugural deep-sea port, as a key area for his free and open Indo-Pacific agenda.
Japan International Cooperation Agency also agreed to provide a new 165 billion yen ($1.2 billion) infrastructure loan to Bangladesh in the same month, adding to the 38.8 billion yen previously pledged. These recent developments illustrate the growing importance of Matarbari in the region.
Kishida announced in New Delhi that Tokyo aims to develop an industrial value chain in cooperation with South Asian nations, promoting growth throughout the region.
Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district will have a port featuring a container terminal and a coal-fired power plant, deepening the harbor's shallow waters to accommodate giant container ships, tankers, and support the country's garment industry through the import of iron ore, and export of large amounts of finished garments.
According to the project leader from JICA, Matabari port will match the water depths of Port of Colombo in Sri Lanka and Port of Singapore.
Expected to finish in 2027, the complex will alleviate a considerable burden from Chattogram, also called Chittagong, the country's primary port. It will also become an important port for India's 'Seven Sisters'–a group of underdeveloped northeastern states landlocked by China, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.
According to analysts, Matarbari is not only the most convenient port for the two sisters but also their most practical choice. This is due to the fact that India has more amicable relations with Dhaka than it does with its other neighbors.
India is currently in a territorial dispute with China, and there is a regional power struggle going on. Meanwhile, Myanmar is plagued by instability which was highlighted by a deadly airstrike on a pro-democracy gathering on Tuesday (11 April). These factors make Matarbari the wisest option for the sisters.
On Tuesday, Japanese, Indian, and Bangladeshi officials discussed plans. India's minister for the northeast welcomed Japan's initiative, according to Reuters.
Japan suggested improving economic ties with India through infrastructure connection to pave the way for military collaboration in the future.
JICA official highlights Japan's increased financial aid to Bangladesh, with 15-20 per cent of the country's yen loans going to infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges.
Matarbari is an ideal location for port development in Japan, as it serves as a natural gateway to South and Southeast Asia.
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