The People’s Republic of China is one of the earliest countries to congratulate Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her landslide victory by securing two-third majority in the 11th National Parliamentary Election in Bangladesh, held on December 30, 2018.
Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka, Zhang Zuo, and his team paid an official visit to the Prime Minister’s Office, Ganabhaban, on December 31, 2018, to hand over the congratulatory messages to the newly elected Prime Minister from Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. This official message denotes China’s continuous support to Bangladesh as well as the potency of their bilateral strategic partnership at the dawn of the twenty-first century.
Over the years, especially since 1990s, China has emerged as a cooperative and reliable partner for Bangladesh in the economic development and national security build-up of the latter. Under the constant rule of Sheikh Hasina and her party, Bangladesh Awami League, in Bangladesh since 2009, the relationship has turned into a comprehensive strategic partnership.
In terms of trade, China, at this moment, stands as the largest trading partner for Bangladesh with more than $10 billion of bilateral trade volume. According to the reports provided by the Export Promotion Bureau of Bangladesh, the amount of country’s total export to China was $808.14 million in the fiscal year 2015-16, compared to the amount of $319.66 million in 2010-11. At the same time, China’s export to Bangladesh in 2015-16 was worth about $9.8 billion, compared to the amount of $5.9 billion in 2010-11. Economists have predicted that, if the current rate continues like this, the bilateral trade volume would reach up to $18 billion in 2021, when Bangladesh will be celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Throughout the last decade, Bangladesh has developed an outstanding political relationship with China as well. For example, when Chinese President Xi Jinping’s paid an official visit to Dhaka in October 2016, Bangladesh received him with the highest official greetings ever. It was the first visit by any Chinese head of the state to Bangladesh in 30 years, which is considered as the biggest diplomatic milestone to their bilateral relationship.
During this visit, both countries signed 27 deals and memorandum of understanding (MoUs) worth an amount of $13.6 billion in trade and investment sectors. President Xi has also offered $23 billion loan to Bangladesh for supporting some large-scale infrastructure projects. Prior to that, in May 2014, the China Major Bridge Engineering Company (CMBEC) was awarded for the construction of Padma Bridge, the biggest ever infrastructural project in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has been an official partner of China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) since 2016. The country is one of the founding members of the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) as well. Geographically, Bangladesh is a part of both overland and maritime routes of BRI. It is a member of Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC) initiative, which focuses on the revival of the Southern Silk Road under BRI by physically connecting the landlocked provinces of Southern China to the Bay of Bengal. On the other hand, the Chattogram sea-port and its adjacent maritime area of Bangladesh have been an integral part of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The country has, in fact, received the second highest amount of funding from BRI project in South Asian region, after Pakistan.
Apart from these developments, China has also emerged as a strategic security partner for Bangladesh in South Asia over the last decade. In the period of 2011-2015, for example, Bangladesh became the second highest importer of military equipments from China. In order to strengthen the capacity of Bangladesh Navy under the current regime of PM Sheikh Hasian, Bangladesh purchased two submarines from China, named BNS Nabajatra and Joyjatra, both delivered in 2016. Bangladesh also purchased six surface ships from China in between 2009 and 2015, which include two patrol boats with modest anti-surface and anti-submarine capabilities. These technological supports and upgraded equipments from China have enabled Bangladesh Navy to be emerged as a “blue-water” defense force for protecting country’s maritime area.
In terms of education and cultural exchanges, both China and Bangladesh have further developed their cooperation during this period. Several Chinese language institutes have been established, by far, in both public and private universities of Bangladesh. The number of Bangladeshi students studying in China has also been increased significantly with the help of growing number of scholarships from the Chinese government.
Hence, as per the expectations from both sides, the extension of Sheikh Hasina’s government for the third time will contribute to further boost up this bilateral cooperation. China believes that, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh will be able to fulfill its “Vision 2021” and, thereby, to become a middle income country by 2021, which would create further opportunities for the promotion of China-Bangladesh friendship in the upcoming days.
This article was originally published in Modern Diplomacy and written by Noor Mohammad Sarker