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Bangladesh - China Relations

Almost 90 percent of Bangladesh's arms are sourced from China, and the fear that it can be held hostage is real in light of the warm relationship shared by Myanmar and China. Reducing dependence on China for the supply of arms is obviously the desirable thing to do, and there is thinking in Bangladesh that it needs to diversify its defense partnership to maintain its strategic autonomy. India, with whom Bangladesh has both cultural and linguistic affinity, can be a natural ally.

Bangladesh and China have maintained close defense ties. China not only is a reliable and affordable source of weapons and equipment for Bangladeshi armed forces, but also provides military technology and training. China firmly supported Pakistan during Bangladesh's war of independence, and for several years thereafter it remained, along with Pakistan, hostile to the new state. In the years immediately following independence, Bangladesh was close to India and the Soviet Union--two foes of China--and as a result it was grouped with them by Beijing as an enemy state. In 1972, for example, a Chinese veto blocked Bangladesh's entry into the UN, but by the mid-1970s China and Bangladesh had developed proper relations.

When Pakistan formally recognized Bangladesh in 1974, the Chinese were able to move closer to Bangladesh without antagonizing their ally. After Mujib's death in 1975, when Bangladesh distanced itself from India and the Soviets, it left the camp of China's adversaries. A preliminary agreement to establish relations in late 1975 led to an exchange of diplomatic missions in 1976. The trend in China toward a more open foreign policy during the 1970s also paralleled the Bangladeshi move toward neutralism under Zia, who visited Beijing in 1977.

By the 1980s, the domestic and foreign policies of China and Bangladesh had become somewhat similar. The governing parties of both countries opposed ultra-left and ultra-right political systems, while at the same time opposing "bourgeois" economics. Each country called for an international dialogue on debt problems between the developed and developing nations, and each expressed concern over Soviet policies in Afghanistan and Cambodia. By the mid-1980s, China had become the staunchest international friend of Bangladesh, cementing the relationship with numerous trade and cultural agreements, construction projects, and military transfers. In addition, Ershad was warmly received during his visit to Beijing in July 1987.

Since 1975 Bangladesh has cultivated close relations with China. Although Sino-Bangladeshi security relations have remained informal, the two sides have regularly exchanged high-level military delegations to review relations, negotiate weapons transfers, inspect military facilities, and cement personal contacts. For instance, Chinese advisers and technicians have periodically served in Chittagong and Dhaka to assist with making Chinese equipment operational in the Bangladeshi armed forces. In January 1987, Yang Dezhi, chief of the general staff of China's People's Liberation Army, conducted a five-day goodwill visit to Bangladesh. While in Dhaka, the Chinese delegation met with Ershad and the three service chiefs. Three months later, the Bangladesh Navy chief of staff, Rear Admiral Sultan Ahmad, conducted a six-day visit to China. Press reports noted the two sides shared "similar views on all important matters." Most of Bangladesh's inventory of fighter aircraft, coastal patrol boats, and tanks were supplied by China.

Following the political turmoil of the mid-1970s, the air force looked to China for the bulk of its aircraft, as well as for training. As of mid-1988, the air force inventory included three squadrons of combat aircraft, some of which were probably unserviceable. These squadrons included vintage MiG-21 interceptors supplied by the Soviet Union during the Mujib period. In 1978 China supplied fifteen F-6s (the Chinese version of the Soviet MiG-19) and sixteen A-5s in 1986. The Chinese-supplied fighter inventory in early 1988 totaled two squadrons, or about thirty A-5s and F-6s.

Since the 1990s, the top three recipients of Chinese arms exports have been Pakistan, Burma, and Bangladesh; 90% of Chinese arms exports target India’s neighbors in South Asia. In these countries, China has constructed strategic roads and railways along India’s eastern and western flanks. Chinese economic penetration has also played an important political role in Bangladesh and Nepal. Chinese investment in Bangladesh’s port and energy infrastructure, as well as extensive Chinese military assistance, has encouraged the country, part of India’s natural economic hinterland, to maintain a closed border with India.

In the first decade of the 21st century, China rapidly expanded into the Indian Ocean region following an integrated strategy of economic development and military expansion. China financed and built a series of commercial ports in the Indian Ocean in what has been dubbed a "String of Pearls" that extends from China through Burma, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and Pakistan. Bangladesh suffers from weak governance and underdeveloped state institutions. This have magnified China’s economic penetration and the political implications of China’s trade and investment.

The Sixth China-Bangladesh Friendship Bridge opened to traffic on 18 February, 2008. The prestressed concrete box girder structure - also known as the Mukterpur Bridge - is 1,521m long, with 37 spans across the River Dhaleswari. It was built by China Road & Bridge Corporation and establishes a link between Dhaka and Munshigonj, which is one of the major supply areas of agricultural products to the capital city.

On February 18, 2009 President Zillur Rahman said Bangladesh supported the `One-China policy' and that China was the trusted partner of its overall economic development. The President sought Chinese support to establish Bangladesh-Myanmar-China road link through Kunming in order to increase trade relations between Dhaka and Beijing. `Direct link between Bangladesh and China both in road and air routes is essential to boost bilateral trade and relationsv between the two countries", he said. The President expressed his gratitude to Chinese government for its support to build five friendship bridges, Bangladesh China Friendship Conference Centre and taking part in various development fields. The President also expressed satisfaction over the existing excellent bilateral ties between Bangladesh and China and hoped that the relation between the two countries would be strengthened further.

In 2016, Dhaka quietly killed a deep sea port project that China proposed to build at Sonadia, in southeastern Bangladesh. New Delhi expressed concern about the project, which if completed would have brought the Chinese presence closer to India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands. China has a port facility [Hambantota] in Sri Lanka, they have Gwadar [in Pakistan], they are building a port facility in Myanmar [Kyaukpyu] – this gives India the feeling of being surrounded by China. This is the military dimension of Indian concern.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's official visit to China in July 2019 seemingly succeeded in bolstering ties between the countries. During the trip, both sides inked a host of agreements, including two deals to provide loans to the Bangladeshi power sector, worth $1.7 billion (€1.52 billion). The countries also expressed interest in accelerating the work related to the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM EC) project, an initiative aimed at expanding the economic ties of the four countries that together are home to nearly 3 billion people. Bangladesh and China turned their relationship into a strategic partnership in 2016, and, in recent years, Chinese investment in the South Asian country has risen rapidly. As part of Chinese President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing and Dhaka signed deals worth $21.5 billion covering a raft of power and infrastructure projects. To date, pledged BRI-related investment in Bangladesh stands at around $38 billion, estimates Standard Chartered, a British bank.

In South Asia, Bangladesh is the second-biggest receiver of Chinese investment, behind Pakistan. But not everyone seems optimistic about the development, with many warning that the growing reliance on Chinese money will make Dhaka beholden to Beijing. Critics point to Sri Lanka's experience, where Colombo had to cede control of its southern port of Hambantota to China on a 99-year lease after it failed to repay its debts. Chinese investment comes in both equity and debt. The infrastructure projects are mostly carried out through debt financing. It would be more beneficial for Bangladesh to draw direct investment from China rather than debt financing. The loans granted to Bangladesh by China so far account for just 6% of the total debt.

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Page last modified: 06-06-2021 18:23:57 ZULU