Originally Published 2014-06-19 13:25:33 Published on Jun 19, 2014
Despite some setbacks, the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to China and her meetings with top leaders were quite successful and fruitful, underlying the fact that China has become a time tested friend.
Sheikh Hasina's China visit:  An assessment
Building bridges with China is one of the major foreign policy priorities of Bangladesh. This was reaffirmed with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to China early this month.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited China from June 6 to June 11. The visit, which followed in quick succession to her visit to Japan, was seen an effort to balance its relationship with the Asian powers, especially with China, a country regarded as a trusted ally by Bangladesh.

Shiekh Hasina was given warm welcome. She held meetings with the top leaders, including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Wang Yang and Chairman of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Yu Zhengsheng. Besides Beijing, she also visited Kunming, the provincial capital of the landlocked state of Yunnan. The visit reaffirmed the importance Bangladesh gives to its relationship with China. During her meeting with Chinese Deputy Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina described China to be a time tested friend of Bangladesh.

Commenting on the outcome of the visit later, Sheikh Hasina said that the visit had deepened Bangladesh's relationship with China. She was hopeful that it would open new avenues of cooperation. She underlined that the Chinese hospitality was a reflection of that country's support to Bangladesh.

During the visit, various bilateral issues were discussed with the Chinese leadership. Economic issues dominated the agenda, more specifically the Chinese financial support for mega infrastructure projects. Dhaka has sought soft loans or grants for major infrastructure projects. The projects are: Rajshahi Wasa Surface Water Treatment Plant, construction of the second railway/road bridge over Karnaphuli river, construction of a new dual gauge railway line from Chittagong to Cox's Bazaar via Ramu and Ramu to Gundum near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, and national ICT network for Bangladesh government (phase-iii). Bangladesh also sought Chinese support for the setting up of Eastern Refinery Unit-2 and Single Point Mooring Project. But China agreed to support only two projects.

The immediate outcome of the visit was signing of some agreements between the two governments, primarily stressing on strengthening economic cooperation between the two countries. The agreements are: (a) agreement on economic and technical cooperation between two countries. According to this agreement China will provide 300 million renminbi every year to Bangladesh. (b) Agreement on formation of a joint venture between China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation and North-West Power Generation Company Limited to set up 1,320 megawatt coal fired power plant in Bangladesh. (c) Memorandum of Understanding for the creation of a Chinese Economic and Investment Zone in Chittagong. (d) Two Exchanges of Letters on the second batch of calamity rescue equipment and a feasibility study of flood prevention and management in Bangladesh. (e) A MOU on the construction of a multi-lane tunnel under Karnaphuli River.

Notably, some agreements were also signed between the private sectors of the two countries. The most prominent was the MOU signed between the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and Orion International Holding Company of China for development of a Garment Village in Bangladesh. Orion will build the village in Cazaria in Munshiganj district in central Bangladesh.

There were, however, some disappointments for the Bangladesh delegation. The most contentious of the issues was that of trade gap on which the Chinese were non-commital. Prime Minister Hasina wanted the Chinese authorities to reduce the trade gap. Though the Chinese had earlier mooted a proposal to give zero tariff facility to 95 per cent of Bangladeshi products entering China as a means of reducing the trade deficit, no commitment was forthcoming during the visit.

The biggest disappointment was the failure to reach an agreement on the construction of the deep sea port at Sonadia in Cox' Bazaar. China had proposed to finance it but with the condition that it would design, execute and operate the port also. This raised heckles in Dhaka. Bangladesh was keen on China picking the tab for the project, expected to cost $14 billion, but was not sure whether it was willing to part with the liberty to design, execute and operate the port.

These setbacks apart, the visit indicated the maturing of the bilateral relationship. China had backed Pakistan during Bangladesh's liberation in 1971 and was also not quick to recognise Bangladesh. But today, such apprehensions have been replaced with a greater enthusiasm for a deeper relationship between China and Bangladesh. Both the countries have agreed to celebrate the 40 years of diplomatic relations jointly in 2015.

Significantly, unlike in the case of India, there was no rancour in the media and among the political leadership about the disagreements. The overall public mood is for a stronger relationship with Beijing and Prime Minister Hasina's visit only reaffirmed this public sentiment.

(Dr. Joyeeta Bhattacharjee is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee (1975 2021) was Senior Fellow with ORF. She specialised in Indias neighbourhood policy the eastern arch: Bangladeshs domestic politics and foreign policy: border ...

Read More +