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Tapping Potential
President Xi Jinping's state visit to Bangladesh invigorates friendship
By Wang Shida | NO. 43 OCTOBER 27, 2016

 

President Xi Jinping holds talks with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka October 14 (XINHUA)

On October 14 and 15, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Bangladesh and received a warm welcome. During the trip, Xi met President Abdul Hamid and Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury, Speaker of the nation's parliament, and held talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Some 56 agreements and memorandums of understanding were signed to enhance cooperation on telecommunications, infrastructure, finance and trade. During the visit, leaders of the two sides drew a blueprint for the future of China-Bangladesh ties and agreed to elevate their relationship to a strategic partnership of cooperation.

Long-standing friendship

Although located on the eastern part of the Eurasian continent, ancient China never ceased its communication with civilizations on the southern and western sides of the continent, as evidenced by the ancient Silk Road which was open to various cultures. The Southern Silk Road witnessed friendly exchanges between China and Bangladesh.

Some scholars believe that the Southern Silk Road and the Silk Road were the two oldest international transport corridors. The former passed Pundravardhana, an ancient territory mainly in what is now Bangladesh. Pundravardhana had frequent and in-depth exchanges with the Chinese civilization, as it was a bridgehead and transfer station between Southeast Asia and the South Asian subcontinent. Bangladesh can be seen as a crucial joint of the Southern Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Road.

China's famous 13th-century explorer and diplomat, Zheng He, traveled at least twice to the region where Bangladesh is located today and left detailed written records, adding more evidence to the well-established friendship between the two countries.

 

A natural gas well operated by China’s energy company Sinopec in Bangladesh (XINHUA)

Steady progress

China and Bangladesh established diplomatic relations on October 4, 1975, and since then, the two countries have seen their friendship grow.

As the two countries celebrated the 30th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations in 2005, they agreed on the establishment of a comprehensive partnership of cooperation featuring long-term friendship, equality and mutual benefit. In 2010, they decided to establish a closer comprehensive partnership of cooperation.

Hasina has visited China several times as prime minister and opposition leader. Her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding leader of Bangladesh, paid a visit to China in 1952, followed by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai's visit to Dhaka in 1956. In 2010, Xi visited Bangladesh when he was vice president. The frequent exchange of high-level visits has enhanced the friendship of the two countries.

During an interview with Chinese media ahead of Xi's recent visit, Hasina said that the China-Bangladesh relationship has stood the tests of time. She stressed that Bangladesh and China have adhered to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in developing relations and have respected and supported each other in choosing the development path in accordance with their national conditions and on issues involving their core interests and major concerns.

Since the establishment of China-Bangladesh diplomatic relations, bilateral economic and trade ties have moved ahead rapidly.

Bangladesh has adopted a market-oriented development strategy since the mid-1980s, pushing forward investment and trade liberalization and supporting private enterprises. Thanks to the effort of successive administrations, the country has made progress in economic and social development. Its GDP growth rate has increased from less than 4 percent in the 1980s to around 7 percent in recent years. Since Hasina took office as prime minister in 2009, she has carried out ambitious development plans and vowed to build a "Digital Bangladesh" and achieve middle-income status for the country by 2021. According to statistics released by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the nation's GDP increased 7.5 percent in the last fiscal year from July 2015 to June 2016, its best performance of the decade.

China and Bangladesh are highly complementary in the fields of economy and trade. Bangladesh boasts fine deep-sea ports and abundant natural resources. Its population numbers 166 million, providing cheap labor and a huge market where Chinese products and services can enjoy long-term demand.

China is one of Bangladesh's most important partners in economic and trade. It has provided support and cooperation opportunities for Bangladesh in infrastructure, trade, investment, energy, information technology, telecommunications and agriculture, exerting a positive influence on the latter's economic and social progress.

In 2006, China overtook India to become the largest exporter to Bangladesh. The bilateral trade volume has maintained double-digit growth since 2009 and surged to $14.7 billion in 2015 from a mere $900 million in 2000. In July 2010, China offered zero tariff treatment to 60 percent of products from Bangladesh in a move which has boosted its exports of jute, leather, sea products and textiles to China. The trade imbalance between the two has been mitigated.

Moreover, Bangladesh is a huge market for projects which China typically bids. China-invested enterprises have a competitive edge and have taken large market shares in Bangladesh in areas such as electric power, transportation, chemical engineering and telecommunications. During Xi's visit, the two countries agreed to advance synergy between the development strategies of both sides, fully tapping potential for cooperation in various areas and expanding the scale of trade. The two countries are planning broader cooperation on major projects and will launch joint projects in new areas such as maritime development, water conservancy, as well as science and technology.

China and Bangladesh also maintain a comfortable relationship in security cooperation. The two countries have always been friendly to each other without having any historical feud or conflict concerning geopolitical interests. The two nations have further developed cooperation in national defense. The Bangladeshi Government and armed forces highly appreciate China's policy of non-interference in other countries' internal affairs and give recognition to China's inexpensive and good-quality weaponry.

Currently, a large proportion of the main weapons used by the Bangladeshi armed forces come from China. Bilateral exchanges between military personnel are frequent, as many Bangladeshi military officers receive training each year in Chinese military universities.

China and Bangladesh have also reached consensus on anti-terrorism, as they both face threats from terrorism and share a common interest in maintaining regional peace and stability. Bangladesh also wants to strengthen cooperation with China in military equipment and training, as well as expand information sharing between the two armies.

Moving forward 

In 2013, China came up with the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative and the building of the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC), which received a warm welcome from Bangladesh. Bangladesh borders the Bay of Bengal and enjoys unique advantages in connecting the two huge markets of China and India. The Belt and Road Initiative will help fully exploit those advantages. Bangladesh has expressed its willingness to be an active participant in the Belt and Road Initiative and in the BCIM-EC to facilitate regional cooperation and its own development.

Bangladesh has also played an active role in synergizing sub-regional cooperation initiatives among Bay of Bengal and BCIM-EC countries. For instance, it is a crucial member of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, and it has been strengthening cooperation with Bhutan, India and Nepal. Such endeavors are expected to promote the interconnectivity of the whole region and Bangladesh's strategic role of connecting South Asia and Southeast Asia.

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

Comments to liuyunyun@bjreview.com 

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