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27 October, 2017 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 26 October, 2017 08:43:29 PM
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Bangladesh China relations: A critical analysis

When democracy returned to Bangladesh in 1991, the relations between two remained strong as ever
Muhammad Anisur Rahman Akanda
Bangladesh China relations: A critical analysis
Bangladesh-China

Sino-Bangladesh relations have a tall tale of critical discourse analysis, which is necessary for the people of both countries to restore the spirits of the modern diplomatic relations. As we celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the modern diplomatic ties between Bangladesh and China in October 2017, critical discourse analysis on the historical review will fill us with confidence and great expectations to the future of our two nations.  If relations are to develop more, many issues will have to be addressed. Although their diplomatic relations have been neglected in the country for a long time, their relation is a great tale that started after the liberation war.

Very few scholarly books have been written by Bangladeshi and Indian scholars in English, who have adopted the realist approach to study the Sino-Bangladesh relations stressing strategic and economic factors. It is politically related with the term, International Relations (IR) dated from the time of the Greek historian Thucydides. China, a rising global power, is only 100 miles away from Bangladesh, separated by the Himalayas Mountain. The historical relation was greatly enriched by the contributions of the greatest scholars namely Fa Xian, Xuan Zang, Atish Dipankar and Zheng He. China established the modern diplomatic ties with Bangladesh in October 1975, and have promoted their political, economic, diplomatic and military relations. Their diplomatic ties provide them with a number of strategic advantages in addition to economic gains.  The last four decades was a critical period for Chinese people to seek scientific and sustainable development at national and international levels, with whom, Bangladesh is going ahead with the spirit of the diplomatic ties termed as ‘old tested friendship’.

When democracy returned to Bangladesh in 1991, the relations between two remained strong as ever. According to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, China has always maintained friendly relations towards Bangladesh as well as two major political parties. The constructions of the friendship bridges as well as Bangladesh-China friendship Convention Centre in Dhaka are the most visible results of their modern friendly collaboration. Since Bangladesh needs to have physical infrastructures to connect areas within the country for faster communication, it can certainly utilise Chinese investment in this area. Chinese investment in 2010 drastically increased to $200 million and Bangladesh’s export to China has increased in 2015. Although China overlooks India as the largest trading partner of Bangladesh, Bangladesh and China have enjoyed a time-tested, all weather friendship.

A rising China can be a great patron for our industrialisation. If one looks at the way East Bengal was peopled, which historian Richard Eaton has discussed. China’s rise needs to be studied by all South Asian countries for two reasons: One is led by India, and the other by almost all other countries, including Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. It was during the 1970s that early projects were taken to explore the possibility of regional cooperation in South Asia by the European funding agencies (UNDP, ADB) for undertaking research.  The rise of China has become a great factor into the broader regional discourse. Bangladesh and China are now having good relations on a number of sectors relevant to adaptation. Climate change is one of the biggest threats to both countries; therefore, both need to share their adaptation lessons and experiences as well as useful tools, methods and technologies. During the periods (1983-2015), 70 agreements have been concluded between the two countries. Due to the cultural interactions, many high level state visitors, delegations and groups have exchanged visits during the last 42 years. Both the countries have been facing many problems in the 21th century. The most important problem is the language barriers causing difficulties to transfer knowledge and technology from China to Bangladesh.

For faster communication, China and Bangladesh have agreed to start a direct air transport route between Dhaka and Beijing via Kunming-Chittagong road link through Myanmar.  In 2002, China and Bangladesh signed an agreement for military training. In 2006, China submitted a report to the United Nations for its exports and imports of major arms for Dhaka, which is emerging as a major buyer of weapons made in China. In 2008, Bangladesh set up an anti-ship missile launch pad near the Chittagong Port with assistance from China.

China, India, Myanmar and Bangladesh were the active participants in a meeting on February 6-7, 2002.  China wants to make a common economic grid circling Myanmar, Thailand, and the Eastern states of India using its Yunnan province. Since Bangladesh is the third largest trade partner of China in South Asia, the country has bolstered its economic aid to Bangladesh to reduce trade imbalance. Under the Asia-Pacific Free Trade Agreement, China removed tariff barriers to 84 types of commodities from Bangladesh. They agreed to make joint ventures in trade and commerce under the APTA (2005).  With the change of relations, China gave zero-tariff treatment to 4,762 products from Bangladesh, which took effect on July1, 2010.

From the early 21th century, Xi Jinping, 63, the President of China and General Secretary of the Communist Party, wants to revive the myth and build a new Silk Road (One Belt One Road) in large parts along the old trade route. It marks the return of a legend, having linguistic and historical references to "yi dai yi lu," (a belt, a road). It is a gigantic project covering about 60 countries and half of population in the world. That’s why, China wants to expand trade route and develop infrastructures globally. It heads west with Beijing’s new Silk Road to Europe. Beijing has already allocated $40 billion for the project for building new roads, railroads, pipelines and ports from Lithuanian to the Horn of Africa, Sri Lanka to Israel, and Pakistan to Iran. Two railroad lines lead to Germany, one from Zhengzhou to Hamburg and the other from Chongqing to Duisburg.  In order to finance ‘the one belt one road’ project, China has established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).  In June 2015, at least 57 countries, including France, Great Britain and Germany, signed the charter of the AIIB, avoiding the wills of Washington, World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In September 2013, President Xi Jinping declared the concept of “one belt one road” in Kazakhstan. The belt includes countries situated on the original Silk Road through Central Asia, West Indies, Middle East and Europe, while the maritime Silk Road is a complementary initiative to enhance diplomatic ties with Southeast Asia, Oceania and North Africa. The western media reports that China hosts Silk Road summit in shadow of North Korea missile in 2017, asking the question: What is Beijing trying to achieve with its Silk Road plan? Beijing has already deployed officials to materialise the major projects. China is now investing enormous amounts of money in its transit routes toward Central Asia. China’s investments in developing ports in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar are the main coverage of the belt road project.

With those proposals, China wants to connect with Asian markets and resources. The project will show a strategic Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean and the Asian region, creating strategic space that naturally exists for other countries including the US and Russia. In an ideal scenario, the new Silk Road can become the biggest economic trade route since the Marshall Plan, with which the United States helped Germany get back on its feet after the Second World War.  Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that Beijing aims to solidify its dominant political position with the Silk Road plan. Iran and Turkey strongly support the Silk Road project. The first direct train from China arrived in Tehran in February 2016.

China and Bangladesh have the prospect to build the 900 km Kunming Highway linking Chittagong with Kunming through Myanmar to facilitate greater trade.  China appreciated Bangladesh for regional peace, stability and progress in South Asia, including within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).  Both recognised that the 'Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM EC)' would constitute an important vehicle to increase regional connectivity. Both agreed to a number of aspects on global discourse, including climate change, Post-2015 Development Agenda, energy resources, natural disasters and food security as well as other issues related to the developing countries.

In October 2016, Chinese President Xi Jingping visited Bangladesh and promised to continue Chinese support for development. On the other hands, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attended the opening ceremony of the Second China-South Asia Expo at Kunming in Yunnan Province on 4 June 2014.  

With the diplomatic ties, we shared our views, opinions and truly tested friendship, which is the central theme of making Sino-Bangladesh relations stronger. As we celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the modern diplomatic ties between Bangladesh and China in October 2017, the historical review will fill us with confidence and great expectations to the future of our two nations, who will join hands and move forward in near future.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Shanghai University, China

Email: marakanda123@gmail.com

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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