By Dr. Muhammad Samad
The Belt and Road Initiative
It is widely observed that the underlying impact of the international financial crisis keeps emerging; the world economy is recovering slowly, and global development is uneven; the international trade and investment landscape and rules for multilateral trade and investment are undergoing major adjustments; and countries still face big challenges to their development. Against this backdrop, based on ancient Silk Road spirit, the initiative of jointly building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road popularly termed as the One Belt and One Road (OBOR) initiative has been proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013. According to Chinese Government, the OBOR initiative is a systematic project to jointly build the OBOR, embracing the trend toward a multipolar world, economic globalization, cultural diversity and greater IT application, is designed to uphold the global free trade regime and the open world economy in the spirit of regional cooperation. It is aimed at promoting orderly and free flow of economic factors, highly efficient allocation of resources and deep integration of markets; encouraging the countries along the OBOR to achieve economic policy coordination and carry out broader and more in-depth regional cooperation of higher standards; and jointly creating an open, inclusive and balanced regional economic cooperation architecture that benefits all. Jointly building the OBOR is in the interests of the world community. Reflecting the common ideals and pursuit of human societies, it is a positive endeavor to seek new models of international cooperation and global governance, and will inject positive energy into world peace and development. Thus, in line with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, in the context of current world order, OBOR initiative may also be observed as a great undertaking that may benefit people around the world.
Culturally, the OBOR is harmonious and inclusive. It advocates tolerance among civilizations, respects the paths and modes of development chosen by different countries, and supports dialogues among different civilizations on the principles of seeking common ground while shelving differences and drawing on each other’s strengths, so that all countries in Asia, Europe and Africa and the rest of the world can coexist in peace for common prosperity and wellbeing.
Genesis of Bangladesh-China Bilateral Relationship
The interfaces between the two civilizations i. e. Bangladesh and China date back to thousands of years. In fact, the root of Bangladesh-China relations that is the relations between Indian subcontinent, of which Bangladesh is an integral part, and China is very long-standing since travels of two great Chinese Buddhist monks, Fa-Hien (337-422 AD) and Hyun Tsang (602-664AD) . On the other hand, Atish Dipankar (982-1054 AD), a Buddhist Bengali religious leader and master (head of academic institution/vice-chancellor), who was one of the major figures in the spread of 11th-century Mahayana and Vajayana Buddhism in Asia, i. e. from Tibet/China to Sumatra/Indonesia. Thus, exchanges of Buddhist thought by the scholars and practices by the people built a long-standing relations between the two civilizations.
However, Bangladesh appeared on the world map as an independent and sovereign state following the victory of long struggle for independence, and War of Liberation in 1971. It is now one of the lower-middle income countries in the world. As an independent and sovereign state, Bangladesh has been enjoying excellent bilateral relations with China in political, economic and cultural arena since long. The two countries cooperate at various levels of the entire gamut of diplomatic spectrum– covering bilateral, regional and multilateral engagements for more than 40 years. Presently, the bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and China has been framed within a Comprehensive Partnership of Cooperation that reaches into almost all possible sectors.
Political and Strategic Partnership
Needless to say, progress and wellbeing of the people primarily depend on political image of the leadership. Therefore, political relation between and among nations in the world is of utmost importance in accelerating the partnership and cooperation in development. The visit of the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to China in 1952 and 1957 laid down the foundation of political relations between the two countries. Besides, the relations between political parties and people of two countries have been strengthened over time. The relations between Bangladesh and China are underpinned by the principles of peace, stability, sovereignty, territorial integrity, mutual trust, respect, interest and equitable sharing of mutual benefits that are focused in OBOR declared by the Chinese President Xi Jingping. Simultaneously, during the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s official visit to China in March 2010, a 10-point Joint Statement was issued in Beijing in March 2010 when the two sides decided to establish Closer Comprehensive Partnership of Cooperation from the strategic perspective and on the basis of the principles of longstanding friendship, equality and mutual benefit.
Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC) is an important step toward strategic partnership. Getting its formal shape in 2013, BCIM-EC is going to connect a contiguous landmass spreading from eastern Chinese province of Yunan (Kunming – provincial capital), cutting across North-East India, northern Myanmar, Bangladesh and ending at Kolkata (WB, India). Keeping aside point-to-point connectivity, BCIM-EC would establish long-awaited, seamless physical connectivity between Chinese mainland and India, through Myanmar and Bangladesh. Covering around 2.12 million sq. kilometers, BCIM account for 40% of global population and 68% of global working population. The region also accounts for 10% of global GDP, i.e., approximately US$ 5.7 trillion. In 2011, Intra-BCIM trade was US$ 90.2 billion. Welfare gain-wise, the proposed Corridor would bring to Bangladesh the second highest welfare gain in this region in case of full, moderate and partial liberalization, while India being the first and China as the third.
Development Partnership and Cooperation
During the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister in 2014, a 20 points joint statement was issued viewing each other’s development as opportunities to further expand and raise the closer comprehensive partnership of cooperation between the two countries to a newer height. In this regard, the two sides agreed to explore further avenues and opportunities of cooperation. Toward that end, China has increased its financial assistance to Bangladesh substantially and announced to raise the yearly Chinese grant from about 25 to 170 million USD since 2015. In addition, China has been providing concessional and other loans to Bangladesh for various projects in different sectors. Of them, the priority projects include expansion and strengthening of power system, construction of tunnel under the Karnaphuli river, water treatment plants, railways, and ICT and communication including establishment of five TV stations in the country.
Academic and Cultural Exchange
Actually, academic and cultural exchange in true sense in terms of philosophies, teachings, rites, rituals and values between two civilizations have been taking place through the great philosophers like Lauzi, Confucius, Fa-Hien, Hyng Tsang and Atish Dipankar since ancient times. In the modern era, cooperation is mostly occurred through agreements between two governments. Thus, in continuation of the ancient tradition, it is worth mentioning that several MoUs have been signed with regard to cooperation in education between the Bangladesh and China in 2015. The major areas are exchanges of student, faculty and administrative staff, research collaboration and sharing of academic materials and information among the educational institutions of two countries.
It is important to mention that Bangladesh and China celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between two countries. As part of the joint celebration, several events were organized in Bangladesh such as cultural performance of Chinese Artistic Troupe from 31January-05February2015, Contemporary Chinese Fine Arts Exhibition organized by China Public Diplomacy Association and Bangladesh China People’s Friendship Association from 02-04 April 2015 and photo exhibition themed Chinese Muslims on the Silk Road; and vice-versa Bangladesh Dance and Music Troupes performed in Beijing in 2015.
Bangladesh and ‘One Belt One Road’
Initiative of China
The recent two-day official Bangladesh visit of President Xi Jingping (14-15 October, 2016), first by a Chinese head of state for the first time in last past 30 years since the visit of president Li Xianian in 1986, is being viewed as a historical milestone of momentum in the time-tested friendly relations between two nations. During the visit, Bangladesh has formally joined China’s OBOR through signing a MoU along with 27 deals in the presence of President Xi and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after their official talks in Dhaka. Both the leaders, in a joint statement, have elevated their cooperation to strategic partnership and agreed to cooperate in all regional and international issues including efforts in combating terrorism and maintaining national security and stability. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh and President Xi Jingping have also jointly unveiled plaques of six development projects in Bangladesh. During the visit of Chinese President Xi Jingping last month, a MoU with 27 deals worth 24.25 billion USD soft loans has been signed to strengthen comprehensive partnership for development and cooperation in key areas of trade, infrastructure, power and energy, digital connectivity, investment special economic zones and so on. The major projects having amounts in billion include Padma Bridge Rail Link (USD 3.3), Marine Drive Expressway (USD 2.86), Expansion and Strengthening of Power System Network (USD 2.04), Power Plant in Payra Port (USD 1.9) etc. are of most important.
According to the local political-economists and development experts observe, if Bangladesh could make use of Chinese assistance in a proper way, both nations would be benefitted equally through realization of these development projects.
Bangladesh, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is firmly committed to materializing two important visions: a) becoming a middle-income country by 2021 and b) becoming a Developed Country by 2041. To that effect, attaining economic prosperity and ensuring sustainable development is very crucial. Bangladesh Government is fully aware that for achieving that goal, greater regional cooperation and enhanced connectivity are important. Bangladesh certainly looks forward to benefit from the fast growing Chinese economy and is open to align our development strategies with that of China. In this context, Bangladesh is appreciative of China’s initiative of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Finally, with regard to greater, sustainable and meaningful cooperation under the One Belt and One Road, initiative should be taken to develop discourses on political, economic and socio-cultural issues in the context of the countries concerned. In this connection, involving the relevant scholars and academics of the respective fields, a central Institute of Belt and Road (IOBOR) may be set up in Beijing, China, and regional ones in the respective countries along the Belt and Road. [The article is an abridged form of the paper presented by the author in the International Conference on ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ and International Development, 19-20, November, 2016 organized by East China University of Science and Technology, Shanghai].
The writer is a Professor of Social Work University of Dhaka, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org