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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Taking Bangladesh-China relations to newer heights

Dilip Barua


Bangladesh and China have a rich heritage of cultural interactions and trade, which developed on the south-west silk route, the ancient tea route and the maritime silk route. After the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took initiative for diplomatic relations between the two countries. With this objective he sent several missions to China. Afterwards diplomatic relations between People's Republic of Bangladesh and the People's Republic of China were established in 1976. Historically, relations stretch over two thousand years of cultural and political interactions between China and the Bengal region. The present-day Bangladesh-China relationship is characterised by close political, economic, and military ties.

Furthermore, the two countries agreed to sustain momentum of high-level interaction and engagements, institutional cooperation, strengthen communication and coordination, people-to-people exchanges and forge closer cooperation on international affairs and climate change issues.

Bangladesh, sitting between two emerging economic blocs, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) on the east and SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) on the west, holds great potential for itself as well as its neighbours. A country with 160 million hard-working people, strategic geographical location, natural resources like gas and coal, skilled human resources, social stability, democratic governance, easy market access, low cost of doing business, attractive investment incentive package, private sector-led economy and, above all, gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate at 6.0 per cent over the last few years, Bangladesh is on the threshold of becoming an economic power house in the region. With our pluralistic democratic process taking root, the economy is at the take-off stage. But we need to do more and here we need co-operation from our neighbours, particularly China. If the intrinsic advantages enjoyed by Bangladesh could be combined with Chinese investment and technology, we could then bring great transformations in both of our economies which would create a win-win situation.

CHINESE CONTRIBUTION IN OUR SOCIO-ECONOMIC FIELDS:    China contributes to different sectors of our economy. Some examples are: the construction of Shahjalal Fertiliser Factory and nine 'Friendship' bridges; agreement for building 1320 MW power plant as a joint venture and setting up a garment village; MoU signed for building a tunnel under the Karnaphuli river. Bangladesh has decided to ink a deal with China for building Payra Deep Sea Port. For our export-import facilities, we also need Sonadia Deep Sea Port. It will enhance the relations between the two countries.

ECONOMIC RELATIONS: Bangladesh and China have signed an agreement on economic and technical cooperation. Under this agreement, Dhaka will receive 300 million RMB (approximately $50m) every year, besides other loans and grants. This represents an increase of the Chinese government's annual grant to Bangladesh from US$ 25 million (150 million RMB) to US$ 50 million (300 million RMB).

CHINA'S ASSISTANCE SOUGHT FOR MAJOR INFRASTRUCTURAL PROJECTS:

Bangladesh and China have agreed that Chinese financial institutions would cooperate with the relevant institutions in Bangladesh on five proposed projects for accelerating development, namely:

i) Development of National Infra Network for Bangladesh Government (Expanding IT connectivity up to union level: Info Sarkar Phase 3);

ii) Rajshahi WASA Surface Water Treatment Plant Project;

iii) Construction of 2nd Railway-cum-Road Bridge across the River Karnaphuli at     Kalurghat point near the existing railway bridge;

iv) Construction of new single-track dual-gauge railway line from Chittagong to Cox's     Bazar via Ramu to Gundum near Bangladesh-Myanmar border; and

v) Eastern Refinery Unit-II and single-point mooring (SPM) project.

SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE FOR CHINESE INVESTORS: While attending the 9th China-South Asia Business Forum held at Haigeng Conference on August 06, 2014 at China Centre in Kunming, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina highlighted the investment opportunities that await Chinese businessmen and entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) and China Harbour and Engineering Company Ltd are working together for establishing a Chinese economic and investment zone in Chittagong.

BCIM ECONOMIC CORRIDOR: Bangladesh and China have pledged joint efforts to implement the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC). The two countries recognised that the development of the corridor would constitute an important vehicle to complement various regional connectivity initiatives and provide an important avenue for strengthening cooperation and sustainable development.

Bangladesh and China have agreed to remain actively engaged in the development of the economic corridor along with other countries, and expressed their hope of realising mutually beneficial and result-oriented cooperation among the four countries. China has welcomed Bangladesh's participation in the construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Route. Bangladesh's convening of the Second Meeting of the Joint Study Group (JSG) of BCIM-EC was lauded by China.

Both the new Silk Road and the new Maritime Silk Route as being pivoted by China, are pro-active, not reactive, moves to lead infrastructure development programmes, backed by its plenty of money and enormous expertise. China has clearly demonstrated in recent years its remarkable performance in infrastructure-related areas. The economic case for making huge investment in infrastructure in Asia is all too evident. There is not much to argue about it. That explains amply well why Beijing has taken the lead role in setting up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The principal objective of the new development bank, which will be operated by the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) states, is to lend to infrastructure development.

Beijing envisages to proceed with its 'one belt, one road' initiative via the New Silk Road and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Route, focusing on a modern network of high-speed rail, motorways, pipelines, waterways, ports, power supplies, fibre optic cable, etc. This fits well with today's manufacturing process. Through economic initiatives the strategic objective may be achieved. These are essentially about upgrading logistics and strengthening multi-modal connectivity which are all too important for economic prosperity and people's well-being in today's globalised economy.   

The BCIM-EC is a win-win arrangement. The linkages of transport, energy, and telecommunications networks will enable the region to emerge as a thriving economic belt that will promote social development of the communities along the Corridor. To date, South Asia has not come close to enjoying the same economic success that East Asia has reaped. BCIM might well be the game changer that South Asia needs.

COOPERATION ON CLIMATE CHANGE: China recognises the importance of Bangladesh to strengthen its capacity to address the challenges related to climate change and disaster risk reduction. Bangladesh has expressed its appreciation for China's support in this area and underlined the need for development and transfer of relevant technologies. China agreed to enhance its support to Bangladesh in addressing climate change challenges as well as further strengthen cooperation on managing natural disasters. Both sides have agreed to develop a framework of cooperation related to urban disaster rescue, relief, and rehabilitation.

MARINE COOPERATION: China and Bangladesh can work together in exploring the benefits of the blue economy. Both the countries have agreed to undertake practical initiatives towards protection, promotion, and development of marine resources and marine sectors in accordance with international laws. The two countries have also agreed to deepen cooperation on creating sustainable employment of the people from the perspective of ocean-based economy and work for sustainable fisheries and exploration and development of marine resources, renewable energy, shipping and eco-tourism.

CO-OPERATION OF WATER MANAGEMENT:    We have huge water resources. For proper water management Bangladesh and China can work together. Most of the rivers which are flow through Bangladesh are originated from India, Nepal, Bhutan and China. So, we are severely affected due to overflow of water in the rainy season and we are unable to cultivate our land properly due to insufficient flow of water in the winter. The river Bharmaputra originates from China.

China has developed the latest technologies for water management and channelised water flow scientifically. The Chinese Government has properly managed the river Huangho, Yang Zce and other important rivers scientifically. Proper water management system has also created a positive impact in the Chinese economy. For our economic development both the countries can take an initiative for sustainable economic growth using our huge water resources. We can properly utilise our water resources by constructing water dams in the Ganges basin, the Teesta basin and the Bharmaputra basin learning from the experiences of China. Moreover erosion is also a great problem for our country. We can solve this problem with co-operation from China. Proper water management will enhance our GDP growth also.

PEOPLE TO PEOPLE COOPERATION: With a view to facilitating widening interaction among people, Bangladesh and China have agreed to simplify visa procedure for businesspersons, scholars/researchers, students, artists, and tourists. Chinese government-sponsored scholarships to Bangladeshi nationals, long-term training programmes for civil servants and diplomats in the relevant Chinese institutions and universities to help the country develop a pool of technical professionals will contribute to Bangladesh's nation-building programmes.

FUTURE OF CHINA-BANGLADESH RELATIONS: China has reached that stage where anything affecting China will affect the entire world. It is therefore imperative for the developing countries to approach China, experiment with China and be at peace with China. At the same time, China seems to have realised that economic and financial emancipation of other developing countries, including Bangladesh, is essential for global peace and prosperity.

Bangladesh would highly appreciate if the enlightened Chinese entrepreneurs come forward to help it build a 'Digital Bangladesh' by 2021, which is a dream of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. She has also set a goal to build a 'Developed Bangladesh' by 2040. China, as a time-tested friend of Bangladesh, is extending all possible co-operation to this effect.

The Government of Bangladesh under the dynamic and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Hasina is very keen to broaden the concept of multilateral connectivity in practice. It is hoped that the Chinese Government will take pragmatic steps in materialising the long-cherished desire of Bangladesh to establish a deep sea port as well as building road and railway network between Kunming and Bangladesh.

CONCLUDING REMARKS: With extensive cooperation in various sectors, Bangladesh and China look all set for elevating their mutual relations to newer heights in coming days.

Bangladesh should establish a strategic partnership with China in its national interest. This will send a positive message not only to the peoples of our two countries but also to the international community that our two nations are willing to take a strategic and long-term view of our relationship.

The writer, a former Industry Minister, is General Secretary, Central Committee, Bangladesher Samyabadi Dal (M-L). The article is adapted from a keynote paper the writer presented at a seminar.

 samyabadidal@gmail.com


Source: The Financial Express, 13 September 2015