What does China want from Bangladesh?


Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is going to China on Monday (July 8) on a state visit. This is going to be his second foreign visit after taking charge as the head of government for the fourth consecutive term.

Earlier, Sheikh Hasina visited India on a bilateral state visit last June. There he signed ten MoUs on various issues including rail transit.

Sheikh Hasina’s visit to China, two weeks after her visit to India, is seen as very important for Bangladesh, both diplomatically and economically. It is known that through this visit, Bangladesh hopes to get a large amount of loan from China to implement various projects including meeting the new budget deficit.

In the last 15 years, China has been seen to play the role of implementer as well as providing loans to several mega-projects in Bangladesh. After the much-discussed infrastructure construction of the Padma bridge and the construction of the Karnaphuli tunnel, the country now wants to join Bangladesh’s Teesta project.

But the question is, why is China showing so much interest in various development projects in Bangladesh? What is their benefit? What exactly are the interests of China in Bangladesh and what do they really want to achieve by increasing their presence in this territory?

Chinese loans and investments

Bangladesh has undertaken more than a dozen major projects in the last decade and a half. Among these projects, China has given financial loans for the implementation of several big projects including railway connection at Padma Bridge, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel under Karnaphuli River, Bus Rapid Transit Project in Dhaka.

In fact, China has now become one of the top lenders to Bangladesh. According to the Economic Relations Department (ERD) of the Ministry of Finance, China alone has loaned nearly three billion US dollars to Bangladesh in the last four fiscal years.

And according to the Washington-based research institute ‘American Enterprise Institute’ (AI), as of 2023, China’s investment in Bangladesh is more than seven billion US dollars.

Currently, China is lending to various countries from Africa to Asia and even to Europe. But on the whole, giving loans to Bangladesh is more profitable for them than other countries, analysts say.

Former Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh Touhid Hossain told BBC Bangla that the reason why it is seen as more profitable to give loans to Bangladesh is that on the one hand they are getting interest money by lending, on the other hand it is seen that Chinese contractors are implementing those projects. Along with this, China’s influence over Bangladesh also continues.

employment

By investing in Bangladesh, Chinese citizens are also getting employment opportunities. In projects where China is lending, it appears that Chinese contractors are working there. They are also a big part of the workforce, Touhid Hossain told BBC Bangla.

After the corona epidemic in China, a country of about 150 million people, the unemployment rate has increased to a record number in 2023. The unemployment rate among 16- to 24-year-olds in the country exceeded 20 percent in the middle of last year, according to the Chinese government. Therefore, by investing money in various countries including Bangladesh, the Chinese government is creating job opportunities for their unemployed citizens.

According to the official statistics of Bangladesh, among the foreigners working in the country, Chinese nationals are at the top. According to the calculations of the Ministry of Interior, the number of Chinese citizens who came to work with permission is stated to be slightly more than 6 thousand, but many people believe that the actual number is several times higher.

Commercial interest

According to AI, Bangladesh’s annual bilateral trade with China has reached about 2,300 billion US dollars. Bangladesh imports almost all of this huge amount.

As a single country, Bangladesh imports the most goods from China. According to Bangladesh Bank, the import of goods from China has increased almost three times in the last 10 years.

According to Bangladesh Bank, in the fiscal year 2012-13, goods imported from China were worth US$ 6.5 billion annually. Now it has increased to almost two billion dollars.

Apart from various products, Bangladesh also buys military equipment from China. The country also bought two submarines from China in 2016. As a result, analysts believe that Bangladesh is very important in the sale of weapons and military equipment to China.

Geopolitical interests

In addition to economic and commercial interests, analysts say that Bangladesh has an additional importance to China from the strategic aspect of geopolitics. According to them, the main reason for this increased importance is the geographical location of Bangladesh.

Former foreign secretary of Bangladesh Touhid Hossain said that China, which wants to become a super power, basically wants to have a hegemony in the region. Especially, in the Bay of Bengal. And, the main reason why China wants to keep the Bay of Bengal under its own control is the ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy’ of the United States.

The United States announced this strategy in 2021. Apart from China, the United States has announced to build a safe ‘Indo-Pacific region’ with other countries including Japan, South Korea, India, Philippines, Bangladesh.

Basically, more than half of the world’s people live in the Indo-Pacific or Indo-Pacific region. Hence this region is very important as a market for any product. At the same time, the region is considered very important for maritime trade.

That is why the US has announced a separate strategy for the region with added importance, analysts believe. However, before the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping presented a development strategy and framework called ‘One Belt One Road’ in 2013. Through the implementation of this plan, China wants to be directly connected with 60 countries of the world including Asia, Europe by road and railway.

Many analysts believe that China is trying to expand its influence in various countries with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRE). And as a strategy to prevent that, the United States has announced the ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy’.

As part of this strategy, the United States has also formed a security alliance with Japan, Australia and India, known as the ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’ (Quad).

China does not want Bangladesh to participate in the US-led alliance. In May 2021, the then Chinese ambassador to Dhaka, Li Ziming, warned about this and said that the participation in the quad will significantly worsen the bilateral relations between China and Bangladesh.

What is China saying?

China wants to take the current relationship with Bangladesh to ‘new heights’ by deepening it.

In response to a question about Bangladesh Prime Minister’s visit to China, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told reporters on Thursday (July 4) that the leaders of the two countries will discuss how to deepen friendly relations and expand mutually beneficial cooperation, as well as regional and international issues of common interest.

He also said that China is ready to work with Bangladesh to take the relationship between the two countries to a new height through Sheikh Hasina’s visit this time.

In response to the question of how and in what process China’s relations with Bangladesh will reach a ‘new height’, Mao Ning mentioned the two most significant steps, promoting China’s Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and the ‘Belt and Road’ cooperation. Basically, as part of this project, China is providing loans for the development of railways and roads in Bangladesh.

In one of his articles on China-Bangladesh relations, Chinese Ambassador to Dhaka Yao Wen says that the year 2023 can be marked as the season to reap the benefits of the Belt and Road cooperation between China and Bangladesh. Because, out of dozens of mega projects that year, several have been completed. Besides, the Chinese ambassador claimed that there has been a lot of progress in the work of the rest.

Source: BBC Bangla

SAH