President Xi Jinping's two-day visit, from October 14-15, was the first by a Chinese President to Bangladesh in 30 years. Six years ago, Xi visited the country as Vice President. At the end of his visit this time, Bangladesh and China in a joint statement agreed to elevate the bilateral relations to the strategic partnership of cooperation. They reiterated their commitment for developing bilateral relations on the basis of five principles of peaceful co-existence. The two sides agreed to fully tap the potential of cooperation in various areas. Infrastructure, industrial capacity cooperation, energy and power, transportation, information and communication technology and agriculture were identified as key areas of China-Bangladesh cooperation. Beijing appreciated Dhaka's commitment to one China policy while Bangladesh lauded Chinese support for its efforts in maintaining national independence and sovereignty and realising national stability and development.
Both Bangladesh and China agreed to enhance high-level exchanges, maintain frequent contacts between leaders of the two countries, strengthen exchanges and cooperation at various levels between the two governments, legislative bodies and political parties to deepen mutual trust at all levels. The Chinese side expressed its willingness to assist Bangladesh in developing the Blue Economy.
China agreed to provide more training opportunities for skills development in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh side expressed its gratitude for enhancement of education, training and scholarship opportunities for its students and officials in China. The two sides agreed to strengthen cultural exchanges. Both Bangladesh and China agreed to celebrate 2017 as the year of friendship and exchange between the two countries.
The two sides condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestation. The two sides agreed to explore the possibility of establishing a dialogue mechanism on countering terrorism. The two sides agreed to push forward the establishment of BCIM economic corridor. China expressed its readiness to strengthen cooperation with Bangladesh on climate change.
China inked with Bangladesh 27 deals worth $24.45 billion in soft loan for various development projects. The private sectors of the two countries signed 13 joint venture agreements involving $13.6 billion Chinese investment in Bangladesh to boost bilateral trade. Together, the sum of $38.05 billion is the biggest ever assistance pledged to Bangladesh by any single country.
A Chinese business and trade delegation on October 13 signed in Dhaka a total of 13 deals valued at $186 million for investment and import of Bangladeshi goods. The contracts were concluded for upgrading Bangladesh's jute mills and purchase of products like raw jute, frozen fish and sea food, jute yarn and leather during a meeting between businessmen of Bangladesh and China. One of the deals for $6.0 million was for upgrading the government-run jute mills for producing value added goods. The rest of the 12 separate contracts were signed between the private companies of China and Bangladesh to export different products to China.
China was urged to allow quota- and duty-free access of Bangladeshi products to Chinese market. The Chinese side, however, said that Bangladesh could get the preferential trade facilities in the Chinese market by adding at least 40 per cent value of the locally made products. China was ready to assist Bangladesh to enhance capacity for value addition. They expressed the hope that Chinese enterprises would invest in different sectors like telecommunication, ICT, jute and leather in a dedicated Chinese economic zone.
China signed a deal worth $1.1 billion to strengthen the power grid network in Bangladesh ahead of the visit of the Chinese President. The deal was for expanding, rebuilding and upgrading Bangladesh's nationwide electrical network system.
Visit of the Chinese President has opened up a new vista for deepening of bilateral relations. The signing of 27 agreements and memoranda of understanding bear ample testimony to the resolve to further strengthen economic cooperation. The volume of investment that will be involved in execution of all such programmes is huge. All concerned will expect that effective follow-up actions will be taken seriously to move forward the process as expeditiously as possible. Strong bilateral relationship between China and Bangladesh can be a game changer.
Building new Silk Road is an ambitious project. Dhaka has agreed to give full support to this initiative. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives agreed to the plan. India, however, remains hesitant about joining the bandwagon. Many of its policymakers think that China wants to increase its influence in the region through this initiative. Bangladesh has a huge trade deficit with China. This needs to be looked into. Deepening of relationship with China is desirable as there is no conflict of interest between the two countries.
The writer is an economist and columnist.