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The Financial Express

Sino-Bangladesh relations enter a new era

| Updated: October 17, 2017 13:59:36


Sino-Bangladesh relations enter a new era

Historically relations between Bengal and  China date back to as early as before the Christian era. Contacts between the peoples of the two countries, which may be traced back to a few centuries, have continuously developed and expanded through Chinese travellers, emissaries, and traders but relations with  modern People's Republic of China flourished when present Bangladesh was a part of Pakistan. 
China sided with Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War did not recognise Bangladesh when it won its independence in  1971.  China accorded recognition to Bangladesh in 1975. Since then bilateral relations have been flourishing to the benefit of both the countries. Over the years, the two sides signed a plethora of bilateral agreements that cover economic engagements, soft loans, social contacts, cultural exchanges, academic interactions, infrastructure development and cooperation between the two military. 
The visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Bangladesh from October 14 to October 15 in 30 years has raised relations between the two countries to a strategic partnership of cooperation. This has been reflected in signing of as many as 27 agreements. Of these,12 agreements are related to loans while rest 15 are Memoranda of Understanding. These agreements are related to building of Karnaphuli underground tunnel, coastal disaster management, ICT and fight against militancy while both the countries agreed to advance China's One Belt, One Road initiative. The two countries agreed to establish institutional cooperation in maritime areas and counter terrorism. Chinese investments are mainly directed to infrastructure, energy and power sector. The Chinese President, in his speech after the signing ceremony, attached great importance to bilateral ties with Bangladesh and expressed readiness to join hands to lift their ties from practical cooperation to a higher level. The Bangladesh premier too reciprocated the sentiment which has been reflected in the joint statements that "we agreed to elevate the relations between China and Bangladesh from a closer comprehensive partnership of cooperation to a strategic partnership of cooperation and to enhance high level exchanges and strategic level so that our bilateral relations continue to move ahead at a high level." Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, "We have elevated our closer comprehensive partnership of cooperation to a strategic partnership. We have agreed to work toward socio-economic advancement of the peoples of our two countries." 
Xi also had a discussion with President Abdul Hamid who requested the former to consider duty-free entry of Bangladesh products to Chinese market. The Chinese President was entertained by his Bangladesh counterpart, followed by a cultural event at Bangabhaban. Trade between the two countries is in favour of China. Bangladesh's imports from China stood at US$7.19 billion from July of 2015 to March of 2016. On the other hand, export from Bangladesh to China stood at $558 million dollars. Mostly frozen foods, leather, agricultural products and woven garment go to the Chinese market from Bangladesh. 
Chinese investment in Bangladesh is quite encouraging. Until 2015, it stood at $ 56.8 million dollars. Pharmaceuticals and shipbuilding are the top investment targets of Chinese companies. China has begun working with Bangladesh to promote the construction of an economic corridor connecting Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar as a part of the One Belt , One Road Initiative. This initiative seeks to revive old Silk Road of ancient times. 
Xi also met with former Prime Minister and chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalistg Party (BNP) Khaleda Zia at Hotel Le Meridien where he was staying during his visit. During the meeting, Khaleda Zia described China as Bangladesh's important and genuine friend while the Chinese President expressed the hope that Bangladesh would support the role of China as a geopolitical and development partner.
Chinese President Xi and Prime Minister Hasina jointly laid the foundation of the Karnaphuli River tunnel and the Chinese special economic and industrial zone in the port city of Chittagong. MOUs for both the projects were signed during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to Beijing in 2014. 
Since Sheikh Hasina paid a visit to China in March of 2011 at the invitation of her Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao, the relations between Bangladesh and China have further strengthened following the visit of Mr Xi. 
The present development between Bangladesh and China is not likely to be taken lightly by India. Some Indian columnists in the recent past talked about concern over 'India's vulnerability in the Siliguri corridor, often referred to as the 'chicken neck'. This 200-kilometre long and 40 km wide corridor connects mainland India by road, rail, and air with its north-eastern region of seven states, one of which is Arunachal Pradesh. China has been claiming some 90,000 square kilometres of Arunachal. That has been a constant source of tension between India and China against the backdrop of Indo-Chinese war in 1962. 
Meanwhile, India has joined China's project of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa and China) and multilateral new development bank whose first president is an Indian. Therefore, India would not take the existing relations between Bangladesh and China  adversely. But, there is a need to watch India's reaction to the visit of the Chinese President to Bangladesh. Bangladesh needs to develop relations with both China and India to keep a balance between two economic powers of Asia.
The writer is a retired diplomat from Bangladesh.
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