French president Emmanuel Macron is exceedingly following America's footsteps in building stronger ties with South Asian nations to push for a "third way" in the region dominated by China.
Mr Macron on Sunday arrived in Bangladesh for a two-day state visit, marking the first trip by a French president in over three decades. Prior to his Dhaka landing, he spent the weekend engaging in high-level talks with G20 leaders in India, where he was treated to lunch with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.
"Based on democratic principles and the rule of law, in a region facing new imperialism, we want to propose a third way – with no intention to bully our partners or to lead them to an unsustainable scheme," Mr Macron told Bangladesh's prime minister Sheikh Hasina.
Mr Macron has pushed France as a third alternative in the Indo-Pacific region where Washington and Beijing are already aggressively competing for dominance.
"Bangladesh is progressively retrieving its place on the world stage," he added while praising the nation of more than 170 million people for "tremendous success".
Bangladesh is considered to be the fastest-growing economy in the Asia Pacific which has led to China, US and Russia jostling for influence.
"All our strategy is focused on strengthening the independence and the strategic autonomy of our friends to give them the 'freedom of sovereignty'," Mr Macron said.
The French leader, who Ms Hasina called "a breath of fresh air in international politics", was hot on the heels of Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who visited Bangladesh a few days before the G20 summit.
Russia is building a nuclear power plant in Bangladesh, a $13bn project financed by a Russian government loan. The French are also trying to sell their nuclear expertise, even if a power plant contract is a more distant prospect.
Mr Macron on Monday announced that Bangladesh had committed to ordering 10 aircraft from Airbus, in Dhaka's first deal with the European planemaker.
The deal for the A350 widebody airplanes, which is still in the pipeline, is with the national flagship carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines Ltd. "I thank you for your trust in the European aerospace industry. And this commitment for 10 Airbus A350 is important," Mr Macron said in a statement.
The Biman Bangladesh has a fleet of more than 20, mostly Boeing planes, more than half of which are widebodies, and some Dash-8 turboprops.
Mahbub Ali, Bangladesh's junior minister for civil aviation, said that the initial order would be for two Airbus planes.
"We have asked for 10 aircraft in phases. The technical committee is now evaluating. These aircraft will be used on new and old routes. Each country has Airbus and Boeing in its fleet. But we only have Boeing, not a single Airbus," Mr Ali said.
The Bangladesh trip comes after a series of short but high-level trips by Mr Macron this year to Asian nations such as Mongolia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka.
The pivot to Asian nations also comes with France's diminishing influence over African nations that were once its colonies or allies.
"We're a country of 60 million, so of course we can't compete head-on with China," a French diplomat told Reuters.
"But although the US are our allies, we have our own interest and can help countries in the region diversifying their alliances, so they're not reliant on one country alone."
Input from agencies