Over the past 45 years, the relationship between China and Bangladesh has been developing, with mutual cooperation and friendship on both sides. In the international arena, Bangladesh has, to the best of its capacity, maintained unwavering support for the “One China Policy” and China’s peaceful rise.
The Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was associated with China during his political life. He travelled to China in 1952 for an international conference. During the visit, he met Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, the heroes of the Chinese Revolution. He was impressed by New China. After the independence of Bangladesh, the work of establishing diplomatic relations with China under the leadership of Bangabandhu began after overcoming many adversities.
Sadly, Bangabandhu was killed before formal diplomatic relations were initiated, but undoubtedly, it was in his hands that the work of establishing diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and China began. Last year, the present Chinese Ambassador Li Jiming and all diplomats from the Chinese Embassy visited the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum. At that time, they paid homage to Bangabandhu. The curator of the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum said that the Chinese embassy was the first foreign mission of Bangladesh, whose diplomats had visited the historic building together.
Chinese Ambassador Li Jiming said, “China will show the highest respect to the greatest Bengali of all time, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his birth centenary this year, which also corresponds with the celebration of the 45th anniversary of Dhaka-Beijing diplomatic ties. While all of Bangladesh is celebrating “Mujib Borsho”, the Chinese embassy will also implement initiatives to celebrate this significant event with our Bangladeshi friends to show the Chinese people’s highest consideration and respect towards this great man.”
Following in the footsteps of Bangabandhu, his daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has proved her worth as a visionary leader by leading the unprecedented development of Bangladesh in recent years. Under the dynamic leadership of the Prime Minister, Bangladesh is ready to move ahead alongside China as a reliable ally in the days to come. Already, relations between the two countries have reached a unique height. In recent years, China has established itself as a major development partner of Bangladesh.
Proposed in 2013 by the Chinese President Xi Jinping, The Belt and Road Initiative has become a most popular platform for international cooperation, with very bright prospects in a world mired with protectionism and unilateralism. Bangladesh is a proud member of this initiative and can play a significant role in the advancement of this epic project.
On October 14, 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Bangladesh on a historic visit. During that visit, China announced huge investments in various sectors of Bangladesh. The implementation of those investment projects is now in full swing. Among the ongoing projects are the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project, Karnafuli Tunnel, Dhaka-Chittagong Highway Four Lane Upgradation, Payra Port Development, Chittagong-Cox’s Bazar Railway Project, Power Grid Network Strengthening Project, Dhaka-Ashulia Elevated Expressway, Dhaka-Sylhet Four Lane Highway etc. Mutual cooperation is not limited to the government level but is also at the private level. Cultural exchanges between the people of both countries underwent significant developments in 2019, as over 37,000 Bangladeshi tourists travelled to China and more than 5,000 Bangladeshi students are studying in China. It is undeniable that the unprecedented development of Bangladesh’s agriculture and garments sector is also due to the support of Chinese technology.
Moreover, a total of 8,256 Bangladeshi products will now be exempted from tariff when exporting to China. Bangladesh has described this as a success in economic diplomacy. This treatment is in addition to the preferential duties that we are already enjoying from China under the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement.
China has established itself as Bangladesh’s most trusted ally in the defence sector as well. China’s valuable involvement in water resource development and management also has enormous potential for Bangladesh. Recently, there have been reports of China’s cooperation in the overall development of the Teesta basin, which, if implemented, could radically change certain sectors, including agriculture and industry, in a large area of North Bengal.
Apart from infrastructural development, China is doing commendable work in cultural exchanges with Bangladesh. The Confucius Institute has been set up in various institutions of higher learning in the country. To facilitate Chinese language education for Bangladeshis, Chinese language courses have been introduced in various educational institutions including the University of Dhaka and North South University. Every year, a large number of Bangladeshi students are going to study in different universities of China with scholarships. Cultural groups are coming and going every year as part of cultural interactions. However, these activities should be allowed to spread outside Dhaka city. Organising carnivals, fairs and exhibitions at the district level can be fruitful in this regard.
China has also established itself as Bangladesh’s only all-weather friend by extending a hand of sympathy and support to Bangladesh during ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. China’s well-planned and regulated strategies to dealing with the pandemic is an important part of learning for the world. China had earlier announced that if the Covid-19 vaccine was discovered, Bangladesh would be given priority in obtaining it.
In Bangladesh, a Chinese company has been allowed to run the third phase trial of the Sinovac coronavirus vaccine. Under the pragmatic initiative of Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has sent medical accessories, including masks, gowns, caps and gloves, to China. The Prime Minister also wrote a letter to the Chinese President Xi Jinping. In return, the Chinese government sent 10 members of a medical expert team to support Bangladesh’s fight against Covid-19. The medical experts have provided consultations regarding pandemic control, patients’ treatment and laboratory tests, and guidance and training for Bangladeshi medical professionals.
China has also provided Bangladesh with over three million surgical and N-95 masks, over 110,000 sets of personal protective equipment and a large number of test kits, thermometers, ventilators, and sanitisers. Moreover, the Beijing-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) said it would lend USD 100 million to Bangladesh to help the country deal with the pandemic.
The Chinese president has outlined the vision of the Chinese dream, which is to achieve the great renewal of the Chinese nation. The steady process of attaining the Chinese dream will not only benefit China, but also the world at large. As President Xi Jinping pointed out, the Chinese dream of national renewal is about the pursuit of happiness by every Chinese citizen, and it has much in common with the dreams of the people of Bangladesh, as we are on the way to achieving the goal of becoming a middle income country by 2021 and a developed country by 2041.We are hopeful that Bangladesh and China, with joint efforts, will be able to develop and maintain practices and policies that will make these dreams come true.
Nafees Sakhawat is Research Associate at the Centre for East Asia (Foundation).