A Closer Look at China's Role in the Bangladesh Liberation War and Its Implications Today
Can China be Trusted?

Published: 6 September 2023

Imran Chowdhury 



The question of whether China can be trusted is a complex and contentious one, especially when viewed through the prism of the Bangladesh Liberation War. In 1971, as Bangladesh fought for its independence from Pakistan, China’s support for Pakistan raised severe concerns about its commitment to human rights and geopolitical motives. Fast forward to today, and China is actively courting Bangladesh with financial investments, loans, and infrastructural projects as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). But should Bangladesh embrace China’s overtures, or should it remain cautious, considering the historical context and potential ulterior motives? This essay delves into the past and present to explore these critical questions.
China’s Support for Pakistan During the Bangladesh Liberation War.

During the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, China’s support for Pakistan was a significant geopolitical move that cast doubt on its commitment to human rights and international law. While Bangladesh sought independence from West Pakistan, China provided political, diplomatic, and even military support to Pakistan. This support extended to China vetoing resolutions at the United Nations Security Council, effectively blocking international intervention.

China’s backing of Pakistan during this period had profound implications for Bangladesh. It was seen by many as an endorsement of Pakistan’s brutal crackdown on Bengali nationalists, resulting in widespread atrocities, including genocide. Despite the overwhelming evidence of human rights abuses, China’s alignment with Pakistan raised questions about its moral stance on such issues and its willingness to prioritise strategic interests over human suffering.

China’s Current Engagement with Bangladesh

In recent years, China has embarked on an ambitious plan to expand its influence globally through the BRI, with Bangladesh being a key partner in the region. China’s investments in Bangladesh encompass infrastructure projects, loans, and financial support. While these initiatives can potentially boost Bangladesh’s economic development and connectivity, they also raise concerns about China’s ulterior motives.

Geopolitical Motives and Military Supremacy

One of the primary concerns regarding China’s engagement with Bangladesh is its geopolitical agenda. China has consistently sought to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean region, which holds immense strategic importance. China gains access to critical ports and transportation routes by investing in Bangladesh, enhancing its maritime presence. This has led to speculation about China’s desire to establish military bases in the region, potentially encircling India and increasing its military supremacy.
Using Bangladesh as a Pawn

Some critics argue that China’s engagement with Bangladesh is part of a larger strategy to use smaller nations as pawns in its geopolitical game. By extending loans and investments, China can exert significant influence over recipient countries’ internal and external policies. This influence can be leveraged to gain support for China’s positions in international forums or to secure access to critical resources.
Economic Dependency and Debt Trap Diplomacy

China’s financial support for Bangladesh also raises concerns about debt trap diplomacy. As China extends loans for infrastructure projects, there is a risk that Bangladesh could become overly dependent on Chinese financing. In the event of economic or political disagreements, China could exert pressure on Bangladesh through debt repayment obligations, compromising its sovereignty.

Bangladesh’s Dilemma

Given the historical context and the potential risks associated with China’s engagement, Bangladesh finds itself in a delicate position. On the one hand, China’s investments could catalyse economic growth and development, addressing critical infrastructure needs in the country. On the other hand, embracing China too eagerly without considering the long-term implications could lead to economic and geopolitical vulnerabilities.


The question of whether China can be trusted remains complex and multifaceted, especially in the context of its involvement during the Bangladesh Liberation War and its present engagement with Bangladesh. While China’s investments offer tangible benefits, such as infrastructure development and economic growth, Bangladesh must carefully evaluate the potential risks and consider its long-term interests.
Bangladesh must exercise caution to ensure that its engagement with China is based on mutually beneficial terms, preserving its sovereignty and strategic interests. Vigilance is crucial in safeguarding against potential ulterior motives, such as military expansion and geopolitical manoeuvring.
Ultimately, the answer to whether China can be trusted lies in Bangladesh’s ability to strike a delicate balance between reaping the rewards of cooperation and safeguarding its national interests while learning from history.