In talks with Hasina, China cites India’s role in economic corridor revival

During the talks, the Chinese side also appeared to demonstrate an urgency to tackle the Rohingya crisis on Dhaka’s request.

Updated - July 06, 2019 02:49 pm IST

Published - July 06, 2019 02:48 pm IST - BEIJING

Chinese President Xi Jinping at the opening ceremony for the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping at the opening ceremony for the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China.

: After flagging last month the revival of the Bangladesh China India Myanmar- Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC) during talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Kyrgyzstan capital Bishkek, Chinese President Xi Jinping joined visiting Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina to accelerate the project with New Delhi’s support.

A statement on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website on Ms. Hasina’s talks with President Xi on Friday says that the Prime Minister pledged to “promote the construction of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor”.

On Thursday, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang advocated that Beijing and Dhaka should “work together to build the BCIM- EC, in a bid to connect the market covering nearly 3 billion people…”

The revival of Chinese interest in the BCIM-EC in coordination with India was evident when Mr. Xi singled out the project as an example of expanding the India-China ties, which had entered a “new phase” after the Wuhan informal summit held last year in April, following last month’s talks with Mr. Modi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Bishkek.

In tune with China’s intent to engage with India to spur the BCIM-EC, President Xi and Prime Minister Hasina acknowledged that “the initiative would have to be revived working together with India,” the United News of Bangladesh (UNB) reported on its website.

After the Wuhan summit, China has been advocating “China-India Plus” cooperation, aimed at adopting a joint approach towards some of the major issues in the region, including the Rohingya refugee crisis along with possible initiatives in Nepal, Afghanistan and Iran.

During talks with Ms. Hasina, the Chinese side appeared to demonstrate an urgency to tackle the Rohingya crisis on Dhaka’s request. “We’ll contact Myanmar political leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, to solve the Rohingya problem amicably and so that the repatriation of the first batch of the Rohingya starts as soon as possible,” the UNB quoted Song Tao, minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC), as saying, following his meeting with Ms. Hasina.

China’s decision to adopt a consultative approach with its BRI partners, including financing of specific projects, as announced during this year’s Belt and Road Forum (BRF), echoed in Ms. Hasina’s talks with the Chinese leadership.

Hasina’s plea on loan agreements

According to media reports from Bangladesh, Ms. Hasina requested the Chinese President to ease the terms and condition of loan agreements, which were signed during Mr. Xi’s visit to Dhaka in 2016.

Ms. Hasina also sought Chinese investments, with buyback arrangements, in the 100 economic zones that were slated to be opened up in the country, along with addressing the issue of trade imbalance between Bangladesh and the world’s second largest economy.

Mr. Xi promised to take concrete steps to assuage Dhaka’s concerns, echoing his remarks at the BRF that the financial model for funding BRI projects had been revamped, countering criticism that its mega-connectivity undertaking was opening “debt traps” for enhancing its geopolitical influence.

But the Chinese President sought Bangladesh’s support for building a “digital silk road”.

Analysts say that the initiative could open the door for the introduction of Chinese game-changing 5G technology in BRI countries, including Bangladesh. The “digital silk road, earlier introduced by Chinese planners as the “Information Silk Road,” is an ecosystem of assets in space, land and seabed that would link the BRI countries with ultra-high speed Internet, enabling a large number of developing countries to bridge the digital divide.

Though Ms. Hasina and President Xi listed “infrastructure construction” as a priority, there was no reference to the opening up of a deep water port in Bangladesh to Chinese investment. Bangladesh is developing the Matarbari deep water port near Cox’s Bazaar with funding from Japan, but Bangladeshi officials have been signalling that the nearby port of Sonadia, in which the Chinese have been apparently interested, is not, immediately, on their radar.

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