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Bangladesh’s China-backed naval dock heightens power play in India’s backyard

In March, a satellite image of the dry dock was released on social media platform X by Damien Symon, a researcher with global intelligence research network The Intel Lab.

“This enhanced defence cooperation endeavour by China helps Beijing solidify its presence and influence in the region,” he wrote.

Analysts say India is unlikely to be “overly concerned” for the moment as the facility mostly reflects Bangladesh’s desire to strengthen its naval ambitions, but they caution that New Delhi ought to be watchful of a growing Chinese presence.

In addition to enhanced influence, China could get a new base for its submarines in the Bay of Bengal out of its closer defence ties with Bangladesh, Indian media speculated last month citing the satellite photo.

Troy Lee-Brown, a research fellow at the University of Western Australia’s Defence and Security Institute, said Bangladesh’s navy was building the dry dock at the new Sheikh Hasina submarine base in Cox’s Bazar.

The US$1.21 billion facility, which was inaugurated by Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in March last year at a ceremony attended by Chinese officials, was being constructed with “considerable assistance” from Beijing, he said.

Hasina said at the inauguration that the base would strengthen Bangladesh’s “capacity to protect its maritime boundary”. It will be capable of hosting six submarines and eight warships at a time, The Dhaka Tribune reported last year, allowing for “safe and swift movement of the submarines in case of emergency”.

The two submarines that Bangladesh bought from China for US$205 million in 2016 are also expected to be serviced at the base.

Nilanthi Samaranayake, a visiting academic with the United States Institute of Peace think tank’s South Asia