A visit by the Chinese commerce minister Gao Hucheng to Bangladesh recently has buoyed hopes among Bangladeshi businessmen and international relations experts that bilateral relations will be strengthened further through an official visit to Bangladesh by either the Chinese premier or president due over the next few months.

Bangladesh Finance Minister AMA Muhith and Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng exchange documents after signing a MoU on ‘Bangladesh-China Friendship Exhibition Center’ project

During the commerce minister’s visit, China granted Bangladesh nearly US$ 100 million to set up an exhibition center and also expressed interest to invest $ 300 million in the South Asian country’s textiles sector.

While textiles sector bigwigs in Dhaka are hopeful that the grant and proposed investment will prove to be a boon for Bangladesh, international relations experts have stressed that this is yet another example of Bangladesh’s growing geo-political and economic importance in the region.

Gao Hucheng landed in Bangladesh on a two-day official visit on August 25.

Following hour-long discussions between the two sides on the same day, letters were exchanged between the two sides.

One letter mentioned that a permanent Bangladesh-China Friendship Exhibition Center will be set up in Purbachal area, in the outskirts of Dhaka. The center will be built on 33,000 sq ft land featuring 1500-car parking area and 800 exhibition booths.

The total cost of the project is US $ 102.2 million, from which China will be providing $ 86.76 million to Bangladesh as grant.

A second letter was also exchanged under which Bangladesh will procure medical equipment and appliances for the ministry of health and family planning from China at a total cost of $ 4.6 million.

Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith informed the media that the Chinese government wants to increase regional connectivity, mainly by constructing roads from Myanmar to Kunming through Bangladesh.

Bangladesh would build 23 kilometers of the proposed international road from Myanmar to Kunming under Bangladesh-Myanmar friendship road project “as a friendship gesture by Bangladesh to China.”

Muhith said Chinese economic cooperation to Bangladesh has expanded more now than 10 years ago. Also, China has agreed to Bangladesh paying in instalment for development projects while interest rates on loans are lower compared with other development partners.

The development projects in Bangladesh were proposed to China during Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Beijing in June 2014.

On August 26, Hucheng sat with Bangladeshi foreign minister A H Mahmood Ali to discuss Chinese investment in Special Economic Zones and other issues.

Hucheng mentioned to Ali that a Chinese company named ‘China Aquatic Corporation’ would look into the Bangladesh request of setting up of the first ever marine aquarium in National Oceanographic Research Institute (NORI) in Cox’s Bazar of Bangladesh.

Referring to the ‘One Belt-One Road’ initiative of Chinese President Xi Xinping, Hucheng further emphasized that the initiative will enhance communication, coordination of national policies and overall people-to-people contact between and among all the countries involved.

The Chinese commerce minister visited Bangladesh ahead of a bigger visit to Bangladesh by either the Chinese premier or President, around October this year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and China.

Local investors are hopeful that the Chinese investment and aid will prove to be a great help for Bangladesh.

Mohammad Hatem, a former Vice-president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BKMEA), said to Asia Times that the grant and proposed investment are a sign of stronger Bangladesh-China ties.

He elaborated on the proposed investment in textiles, “This is extremely necessary for our [Bangladesh’s] woven textiles sector which needs to become as independent as the knitwear sector.”

But international relations experts felt that Bangladesh’s foreign policy should look to maintain balanced ties with both China and India in the long run.

Dr. Delwar Hossain, Professor at the International Relations Department of Dhaka University, stressed to Asia Times that Bangladesh should “consider its own interests” while getting investments, grants and aids from countries like India, China, Russia etc. and “maintain a balance”.

“Bangladesh always had a geo-political importance being one of India’s neighbors and with its location near the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh thus falls under India’s regional and global ambition,” he pointed out.

As for China, Bangladesh has been a long-term partner for the second largest economy in the world for four decades now, he said.

“Besides the geo-political importance, Bangladesh’s economic importance has also been increasing over the years,” he said.

“Whether India, China or any other nation, Bangladesh’s long-term foreign policy should be to maintain ties with the strongest bilateral partners,” Hossain said.

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