12 days ago

PM's China visit arouses intense interest

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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to visit China from July 8 to 11. After her assumption of power for the fourth consecutive term, this will be her second bilateral visit. She has just ended her visit to India  in the last week of June.

Since she has been maintaining very warm ties with both the Asian giants, her upcoming China visit has obviously aroused interest both at home and abroad.

One of the main reasons for this intense interest is the historical rivalry between India and China.

Another reason is the outcome of her visit to India, where Bangladesh and India signed 10 MoUs and made a number of important announcements.

Though most of the deals were related to bilateral cooperation, the political opponents of Sheikh Hasina are particularly vocal against rail transit and the possible Indian involvement in Teesta river management project.

There was an understanding between the two countries on providing technical cooperation to the Teesta River water management project. It seems that Bangladesh has lost its hope as far as signing the water sharing deal is concerned. Against this backdrop Bangladesh PM's visit to Beijing is considered very crucial.

China has been a close ally of Bangladesh since its belated recognition of independent Bangladesh in 1975. Interestingly, the relationship rose to strategic level after Sheikh Hasina came to power in the second spell in 2008. China is now Bangladesh's biggest trade partner with the former exporting  around 15 billion dollar to the latter annually. Bangladesh exports goods worth around 900 million dollar to China.

Naturally, this huge trade deficit between the two countries is a cause for concern. It is expected that China will take some steps to reduce the deficit. Chinese side has proposed to sign an FTA with Bangladesh  as they said that it would help Bangladesh reduce the trade gap.

The next concern is the huge debt. Majority of the mega projects of Bangladesh are now being funded by China.

Bangladesh has long been pressing China for reducing the interest rate. After the Sri Lankan crisis, many here had expressed fear that Bangladesh might face same scenario. Though Bangladesh has not faced Sri Lanka-like situation, many still worry about the impact of the loans. So reduction of the lending rate is crucial to dispel such fear.

Bangladesh economy is under pressure due to its weak forex reserves. It sought Chinese support to check the erosion of its dwindling dollar stocks. Many feel that an announcement from China during the visit on providing a handsome amount to Bangladesh will exhibit China's sincerity to 'stand by Bangladesh' during crisis.

Another issue is Rohingya repatriation. China has strong influence over the Myanmar military government. Not only that, it is widely believed that the insurgents who are now fighting the Myanmar military government across the country are wooing China to get its blessings.

Under the circumstances, the popular perception in Bangladesh is that China has the capacity to convince both the Myanmar government and the opposition to take back the one million Rohingya refugees, who have emerged as a huge socio-economic burden on Bangladesh.

China's contribution to the infrastructure development is huge. But compared to that, its FDI in Bangladesh is still not that much significant.

So, China should also come forward strongly in investing in Bangladesh. One thing should also be noted that warm ties hinge on the sincerity from both sides. In the 'give and take' world of diplomacy, both sides should show the same kind of generosity.

It is alleged that many Chinese projects are facing bureaucratic hurdles despite the approval from the ECNEC. Bangladesh government should look into the matter to remove these impediments.

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