China has warned Bangladesh against joining the US-led QUAD alliance, saying that Dhaka's participation in the anti-Beijing "club" would result in "substantial damage" to bilateral relations.
The unusual warning from Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming came weeks after visiting Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe emphasised to Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid that Beijing and Dhaka should make joint efforts against powers from outside the region establishing a "military alliance" in South Asia and practising "hegemonism".
"Obviously it will not be a good idea for Bangladesh to participate in this small club of four (Quad) because it will substantially damage our bilateral relationship," Ambassador Li said at a virtual meeting organised by the Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh on Monday.
Reacting to the Chinese envoy's controversial remarks, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said Dhaka maintains a non-aligned and balanced foreign policy and it will decide what to do according to those principles.
"We're an independent and sovereign state. We decide our (own) foreign policy. But yes, any country can uphold its position," he told reporters on Tuesday.
"Naturally, he (Chinese ambassador) represents a country. They can say what they want. Maybe they don't want it (Bangladesh joining the Quad)," Mr Momen said, adding that no one from the Quad has approached Bangladesh yet.
The comment has been preemptive, the United News of Bangladesh (UNB) news agency reported, quoting said the foreign minister as saying.
Initiated in 2007, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, Quad for short, is an informal grouping of India, the US, Australia and Japan.
"Quad is a small group of elites working against China," Ambassador Li said.
"Quad says it is only for economic purposes and security and so on. But that's not true. We know that Quad is aimed at China," the envoy was quoted as saying by BDNews24.com news portal and other newspapers.
Japan, together with the US, has stated it very clearly they are participating in [Quad] because of China, Mr Li said.
Li described the Quad as a "narrow-purposed" geopolitical clique, and Bangladesh should not join it as the country will not derive any benefit from the initiative.
"History has proved again and again such partnership surely damages our neighbours' own social, economic development and people's well-being," Mr Li was quoted as saying by the UNB news agency.
Chinese Defence Minster Gen Wei, who visited Dhaka on April 27 had said that to jointly maintain regional peace and stability, China and Bangladesh "should make joint efforts against powers outside the region setting up military alliance in South Asia and practicing hegemonism."
China has vehemently opposed the formation of the Quad with a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman emphasising in March that exchanges and cooperation between countries should help expand mutual understanding and trust, instead of targeting or harming the interests of third parties.
The four Quad member countries have resolved to uphold a rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific amid growing Chinese assertiveness in the strategically vital region.
The first summit of the Quad leaders was hosted by US President Joe Biden on March 12 and the virtual meeting was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
The four Quad leaders have vowed to strive for an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion, sending a clear message to China against its aggressive actions in the region.
During Monday's virtual event, the Chinese ambassador also raised the possibility of China aiding Bangladesh's efforts on the Teesta River management project, stating that their involvement in the project would be seriously considered' once Dhaka submitted a feasibility report.
The Bangladesh government had yet to formally propose that China take part in the project, he said.
The Teesta River management project would dredge and embank large portions of the river in order to form a single, manageable channel.
Mr Li dismissed concerns that water sharing disputes between Bangladesh and India could affect the project.
I think it is the legitimate right of Bangladeshi people to build this kind of project within the lower reach of a shared river, he said. If this was made in the upper reaches, you would have to consult the opinions of countries from the lower reaches. But as you are building it in the lower reaches, I don't think there are any sensitive issues, Li was quoted as saying.
The Teesta deal was set to be signed during then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh in September, 2011 but was postponed at the last minute due to objections raised by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Ms Banarjee had expressed strong reservations against giving Bangladesh a greater share of water from the Teesta river.