Growing together with an all-weather friend

AKM Moinuddin | Thursday, 6 October 2016

China, one of the world's most ancient civilisations, has a recorded history of nearly 4,000 years. Bangladesh has already celebrated 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with China, a country which has become an all-weather friend of Bangladesh. The relationship between Bangladesh and China are based on the principles of sovereign equality, peaceful co-existence, mutual trust and respect for each other's sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in each other's internal affairs.
A new dimension in long relations of friendship emerged when the newly independent Bangladesh and China had established diplomatic relations in 1975. In the following years, China's unwavering commitment to Bangladesh's socio-economic development has time and again been substantiated by its continued efforts to assist Bangladesh in fulfilling the wishes and desires of people. 
We are now going through a landmark phase in Bangladesh-China relationship, recent activities in various fields show the evidence. If we revisit the history, we find, for centuries, the people of Bangladesh and China have visited each other, shared knowledge and ideas. People from both sides have been benefited mutually from that process. The long journey of friendship has been enriched by illustrious personalities like Fa Xian, XuanZang, Atish Dipankar and Admiral Zheng He. Continuing on that tradition in more recent times, two great leaders - Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Chinese Premier Zhou En Lai further cemented friendship through exchange of visits in the 1950s. 
The friendship between Bangladesh and China has gained significant momentum since 1975. More importantly, the two friendly countries have established the comprehensive partnership of cooperation. Statistics show that the trade volume has reached US$ 14.7 in 2015. The friendship bridges, the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre, the Barapukuria Coal Mine Development and Coal-fired Thermal Power Plant Projects, to name a few, bear testimony of Sino-Bangladesh cooperation. 
China has provided numerous assistance to support Bangladesh's economic and social progress, including the seven China-Bangladesh Friendship Bridges and Bangabandhu International Convention Centre (BICC). Recently, Bangladesh and China have reached agreement on the 8th China-Bangladesh Friendship Bridge and China-Bangladesh Friendship Exposition Centre. China will provide assistance for the renovation of BICC. The Chinese will donate a batch of medical, disaster relief and agriculture instruments to Bangladesh and is working on comprehensive plan of flood prevention and promoting hybrid rice technology. China also provides a large number of scholarship to Bangladeshi students. Last year, according to Chinese Embassy in Dhaka, nearly one thousand government officials and students went to China for training and further study. 
There are many reasons why China is valued as an all-weather friend of Bangladesh. We know Bangladesh has gone through difficult times after Holey Artisan Bakery attack on July 01. Many foreigners refrained from visiting the country and a number of countries issued advice to their nationals to remain cautious while travelling to Bangladesh. But visits from China to Bangladesh, at different levels, continued even after security alerts were issued by some foreign countries. When I met Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka Ma Minqiang, few weeks back after his meeting with Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque, he confirmed me about the uninterrupted incoming visits from his country. 
Meanwhile, both sides held the 14th round of the Bangladesh-China Joint Commission on Economic and Trade Cooperation (JEC) on August 22 in Dhaka with focus on specific issues relating to bilateral trade, economic assistance, investment and mutual cooperation. Ways for improving trade and investment environment and addressing the 'concerns' of Chinese corporations operating in Bangladesh will come up in a broader way in the next meeting of Bangladesh and China. 
The Chinese side has raised seven specific issues, including negotiations on China-Bangladesh Free-Trade Agreement and strengthening cooperation on major projects, in the meeting held in Dhaka. China has also discussed ways to strengthen Chinese assistance to Bangladesh, its future expansion, promotion of China-aid projects and cooperation on human resources. Bangladesh and China have discussed ways to take further concrete measures to bolster bilateral trade, widen economic cooperation and boost investment flow, eying mutual benefits by reducing the bilateral trade imbalance. Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Gao Yan co-chaired the 14th JEC meeting with her Bangladesh counterpart Economic Relations Division (ERD) Senior Secretary Mohammad Mejbahuddin. 
CHINA'S ECONOMY: China has a strong determination to achieve more balanced, sustainable growth. We have seen economic growth continues to moderate. This growth is driven increasingly by services and consumption. There is impressive progress on structural reforms in many areas, notably interest rate liberalisation, internationalisation of the renminbi, and urbanisation. They are in the midst of implementing the 13th Five Year Plan with its ambitious goals centred on economic rebalancing. However, China's economic transition, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), will continue to be complex, challenging, and potentially bumpy, against the backdrop of heightened downside risks and eroding buffers. However, China is taking decisive action to tackle rising vulnerabilities; reduce the reliance on credit financed, state-led investment; and improve governance, risk pricing, and resource allocation in the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and financial sectors. China's economic output has exceeded 10 trillion US dollars. Every percentage point of gross domestic product (GDP) growth today is equivalent to 1.5 percentage points of growth five years ago or 2.5 percentage points of growth ten years ago. 
China, the IMF says, continues its transition to sustainable growth, with progress on many fronts while also faces many challenges. Growth slowed down to 6.9 per cent in 2015 and is projected to moderate to 6.6 per cent this year owing to slower private investment and weak external demand. The economy is advancing on many dimensions of rebalancing, particularly switching from industry to services and from investment to consumption. But other aspects are lagging, such as strengthening SoEs and financial governance and containing rapid credit growth. Inflation dipped below 1.5 per cent in 2015 and is expected to pick up to around 2.0 per cent this year, reflecting the rebound in commodity prices and the exchange rate depreciation since mid-2015. Infrastructure spending picked up and credit growth accelerated in the second half of 2015. Accommodative macro policies are projected to continue supporting activity over the remainder of 2016. 
CONTRIBUTION OF CHINA'S ECONOMY TO THE WORLD: China's overseas direct investment has increased enormously in 2015. The total amount of FDI in 2015 is 127.6 billion USD, which marks 10 per cent growth compared to last year. The year-on-year growth of China's investment to the countries along "Belt & Road" region is 18.2 per cent. According to data from IMF, the total amount of global economy is over 73 trillion USD, of which China and US share 15 per cent and 24 per cent respectively. Last year, China contributed more than 25 per cent to the global economic growth. 
ROAD & BELT INITIATIVE: Countries along the "Belt and Road" have their own resource advantages and their economies are mutually complementary. Therefore, there is a great potential and space for cooperation. They should promote policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bonds as their five major goals, and to promote practical cooperation and achieve mutual benefits. China and 34 countries have signed MoUs or agreements to jointly construct the "Road & Belt Initiative". Industrial capacity cooperation is a major part of "Road & Belt Initiative". 
As the second biggest economy of the world, China is keen to share its experience and advanced technology with Bangladesh, to provide finance, technology and training personnel to Bangladesh without reservation, to expedite the latter's industrialisation, and to combine its advanced capacity with latter's needs. China is also willing to help to improve the skill of labour force in Bangladesh, so as to create more employment and strengthen the momentum for achieving sustainable development. 
LONG WAIT FOR CHINESE PRESIDENT'S VISIT: We have long been hearing that Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Bangladesh. I had the opportunity to meet Ambassador Ma several times over the last one year. Every time we met, I asked the same question. Is your president coming to Bangladesh soon? I got almost the same reply all the time: both sides are working on the visit. We understand, such top level visit requires some specific things. It seems that the ground is ready now to welcome the Chinese President. So far we know the Chinese President is scheduled to visit Dhaka in October and both Bangladesh and China are now working to finalise a suitable date convenient to the two countries. The visit may take place before or after the BRICS Summit which will be held in India on October 15-16 as the Chinese President is also scheduled to attend the Summit. India will host the eighth annual Summit of BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) from October in Goa in its capacity as chair of the influential bloc comprising five countries with 42 per cent of the world population and combined GDP of over US$ 16 trillion. 
LOOKING AHEAD: Bangladesh has consistently supported China on the issues of its core national interests, among others, by strongly adhering to "One China Policy" on Taiwan and Tibet. 
Under the dynamic and visionary leadership of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, China is cruising towards becoming the largest economy of the world in a short time. Bangladesh believes in and supports the peaceful economic rise of China and is interested to remain as an active partner in this Asian Century. 
Bangladesh is happy to be a party to the recent initiative of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Bangladesh also supports and appreciates China's renewed emphasis on regional connectivity in the Asia-Pacific region. Bangladesh is engaged with China, India, Myanmar and other neighbours for more regional and sub-regional integration through processes like the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC) as well as in SAARC and BIMSTEC. 
Bangladesh and China need to work to strengthen people-to-people exchanges for deepening civilisational ties. Both sides must actively expand exchanges and cooperation in the areas of culture, science & technology, media, health, and further promote interactions between media organisations, think tanks, academia, research community, scholars, friendship associations, women's organisations, art troupes, sportsmen and sports organisers, as well as young people of the two countries. 
The "Vision 2021", envisioned by our Minister Sheikh Hasina, pledges to transform the country to a middle-income country by 2021 and as a developed nation by 2041. China being the fastest growing mega-economy in the globe is a role model for Bangladesh. While Bangladesh moves ahead, it would like to learn from the Chinese experience. Bangladesh and its over 1.6 billion people are also hopeful that China would continue its support to Bangladesh, specifically in terms of economic cooperation, in its endeavour to reach development targets.
We hope, when Chinese President will visit Bangladesh, he will carry a message for Bangladesh and its people that will help further intensify the "Closer Comprehensive Partnership of Cooperation" between the two countries.
AKM Moinuddin is Diplomatic Correspondent of United News of Bangladesh (UNB).