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Sunday, March 27, 2016

BOTTOM LINE "China-Bangladesh: Strengthening partnership"

Barrister Harun ur Rashid

VICE Premier of China, Ms. Liu Yandong, began her three-day long visit to Dhaka on May 24, 2015 and her visit is expected to end today.  Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is expected to visit Bangladesh next September to join the programmes marking 40 years of diplomatic relations between Dhaka and Beijing. 
Bangladesh's pragmatic foreign policy under the Hasina government- with China and India- is bearing fruits. The Bangladesh Prime Minister's landmark visit to India in January 2010 created an excellent environment of mutual trust that sought to lay the foundation to a much more mature, stable and fruitful relationship with India through a 51-paragraph Joint Statement. Similarly, her visit to China in March 2010 and subsequently in June 2014 further strengthened the Bangladesh-China relations, which is closer than ever before.  
China has assisted Bangladesh in multi-faceted directions, providing aid in infrastructure, power, industrial plant and telecommunications. Over the past few years, China has replaced India as Bangladesh's biggest import source with bilateral trade of about $10.6 billion in 2014, heavily in favour of China.
China has already assisted in building six bridges in Bangladesh. All the bridges have contributed to the accelerated socio-economic growth in the country. The China Major Bridge Engineering Company (CMBEC) is constructing the Padma multi-purpose bridge, the country's largest-ever infrastructure project, which is estimated to cost about $1.77 billion or more. China has also shown its interest in constructing a deep sea port at Sonadia in Chittagong as well as Payra in Patuakhali.
The government of Bangladesh reportedly sought Chinese soft loans spanning 20 years for 14 infrastructure projects. The important projects include a rail bridge over the Jamuna River and a high-speed “chord” train line between Dhaka and Comilla. Another project envisaged under the loan is the construction of a 4.8km long dual-gauge double-track rail bridge parallel to the Bangabandhu Jamuna Bridge. 
Furthermore, during the visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister to Bangladesh in December 2014, China reportedly agreed to invest about $4 billion on six projects which include among others, a tunnel of multiple lanes under the Karnaphuli river, a second railway bridge on the Karnaphuli river at Kalurghat, construction of double gauge railway from Chittagong to Cox's Bazar via Ramu and from Ramu to Gundhum. 
The Hasina government has been a strong believer in regional connectivity, and given the friendly relations with China and India, the economic corridor among Bangladesh, India, China and Myanmar (BCIM) will come into existence. In December 2014, the representatives of the four nations, at a meeting in Cox's Bazaar decided to create a fund, a substantial part of which may come from various multilateral development partners while the rest might be borne by the four governments and the private sector. 
China is also an important supplier of arms and weapons to Bangladesh. Reportedly, Bangladesh and China signed an agreement in December 2013 to buy two “Ming” class submarines at the cost of $230 million to protect its maritime areas in the Bay of Bengal. Since 2010, the government has taken firm steps in gradually building the Bangladesh Navy as a deterrent force and the acquisition of submarines is a part of the plan to defend its off-shore areas.  
During Yandong's visit, future cooperation with China may be explored in the following areas among others:  reduction of trade deficit, investment, ICT, renewable energy, a shifting of low-end industries, such as garments and leather, to Bangladesh from China, and water resource management of the Brahmaputra River through a Himalayan Commission consisting of China, India and Bangladesh, since China built a dam in Tibet on the upper stream of the Brahmaputra River.
Bangladesh has been able to maintain a balanced relationship with China and India because the country needs both the economic giants of Asia to quicken its pace of economic and social development. Furthermore, many analysts believe that friendly relations with China and India will enable Bangladesh to have more negotiating leverage regionally and globally.

The writer is former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva. 

Source: The Daily Star, 26 May 2015