Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen on Monday said that Indian commentators who described the zero-tariff bilateral agreement for 97% of exports to China as “charity” for “least developed” Bangladesh are revealing their “narrow-mindedness”. This was the Minister’s second comment in two days after certain Indian publications said China was using the deal to get Bangladesh on its side as tension with India simmers along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) near Ladakh.
In a set of comments made to a leading online publication, the senior Minister in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government said that the remarks from sections of the Indian media were “ entirely unacceptable ”. “News outlets that have used such words have renounced ethical journalism,” Mr. Momen was quoted as saying in Bengali in jagonews24.com.
On Sunday, the Minister had said the portrayal of Bangladesh in a demeaning manner in certain sections of Indian media was “not welcome”. He indicated that Dhaka has taken serious note of the negative Indian media reports on Bangladesh and said, “It appears they [the government] are very upset.” However, he said that Bangladesh would not take it up at an official level despite a social media uproar in the country over the use of the term “ khoyraati ” (charity) in the reports.
“We don’t think there is a need to protest [officially] on these news reports,” said Mr. Momen when asked by presspersons about further action on the matter.
However, trade is only one part of Bangladesh-China ties. Both sides have also intensified cooperation in the field of health in recent months. On Monday, a delegation of top-level doctors from China’s National Health Commission, who spent a fortnight assisting the government of Bangladesh in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, attended an event held in their honour at Dhaka’s Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport of Dhaka. The farewell event was attended by Bangladesh Health Minister Zahid Hussein, where the Minister urged China to consider Bangladesh on priority basis when it develops the anti-COVID-19 vaccine. In an interaction with foreign correspondents held on Sunday, the visiting medical team announced that they would submit four reports containing recommendations to Bangladesh, which will lay down a specific road map on how Bangladesh can possibly counter the pandemic.
The health- and trade-related cooperation was boosted after the May 20 telephone call between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Chinese President Xi Jinping. President Xi described China as the “truest” friend of Bangladesh during the interaction.
The June 19 Bangladesh-Beijing trade announcement drew Indian attention, especially as it came against the backdrop of heightened tensions between India and China over the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh. The social media uproar over the Indian comments on the deal began after some of the best known Indian TV and online networks used the word “charity” to explain the deal. The public outcry was serious and two senior journalists reporting for Indian news outlets were compelled to distance themselves from the reports that angered locals.