Bangladesh’s Foreign Policy Friendship to All Enmity With None

Hiren Pandit: Bangladesh has allocated land in the Bangladesh Economic Zone for Chinese entrepreneurs, who can set up industries there. Bangladesh has made a lot of progress in the last 15 years. At the time of independence in 1971, Russia was among the major powers on Bangladesh’s side, and China and the US took an ‘opposing’ position in the name of ‘ping-pong diplomacy’. China recognized Bangladesh in 1975 after the assassination of the father of the nation. China and the US blamed Bangabandhu for breaking up their then-ally Pakistan. In the post-1975 years, Beijing consistently became Dhaka’s friend without the Awami League. However, visionary leader Sheikh Hasina visited China for the first time to thaw this relationship when she was the opposition leader. Beijing was hot to the leader during that visit and indicated that they respected her despite her strong ties to the Khaleda Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
The bilateral trade and diplomatic relations between China and Bangladesh are praise-worthy. The exchange between the two countries is about 10 billion dollars. Bangladesh’s trade deficit with China is very high. Bangladesh exports only $1 billion worth of goods against $9 billion imported from China. The main focus of bilateral relations should be the further development of the two countries. Our main aim in the bilateral relations between the two countries should be how we can improve the country.’ China is keen to strengthen cooperation with Bangladesh in various sectors, especially renewable energy and high-tech.
Sheikh Hasina started building relations with Beijing while maintaining solid relations with Russia and India. Balancing China, India and Russia was difficult, but Sheikh Hasina’s magical diplomacy made it possible. Her leadership skills, diplomacy, and strategic planning brought Bangladesh to the center of international and regional politics. After Sheikh Hasina came to power in 2008, a resolution was adopted at a high-level meeting between Sheikh Hasina and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in 2010 to build a ‘closer and broader partnership of cooperation’ to find innovative ways to strengthen more than three decades old bilateral and diplomatic relations with Asia’s emerging giant China. Chinese Prime Minister Webb Jiabao assured Sheikh Hasina of all-round support and cooperation in all fields. Analysts believe this was essential to Sheikh Hasina’s ambition to achieve a ‘comprehensive partnership’ with Beijing. Various issues of importance to both countries were discussed in this landmark discussion. China responded positively to Sheikh Hasina’s call for China’s financial and technical assistance in development projects and cooperation in the agriculture and power sectors. In 2014 and 2019, the Prime Minister officially visited China.
At this time, China is the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh after a century. According to government statistics, about 14 percent of the total trade, including imports and exports, is with China. In the financial year 2012-13, the trade with China was worth 6.77 billion dollars. After almost a decade, bilateral trade has tripled to $2,300 million in the fiscal year 2021-22. Those concerned say that the trade with China is increasing in line with the size of Bangladesh’s economy. They also claim that there is no alternative to China for developing trade and commerce in Bangladesh. After a decade in the fiscal year 2021-22, goods worth 1,935 million dollars have been imported from China. At the same time, the value of goods exported from Bangladesh to the country was 680 million dollars. Bangladesh China Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCCI) said this trend has continued in the last financial year 2022-23. Industry stakeholders expect a sizeable Chinese investment in the Chinese economic industrial zone around the Karnaphuli tunnel. Some potential projects in the region include eco-friendly energy, solar batteries, solar panels, electric vehicles, and IT institutions. China is not only Bangladesh’s top trading partner; Bangladesh is China’s second-largest arms export destination. Despite India’s concerns, China has given two modern submarines to Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government considers China to be an essential development partner for Bangladesh. China has always stood by Bangladesh’s side with Bangladesh’s infrastructural development, construction of the Karnaphuli Tunnel, technical assistance in the construction of the Padma Bridge, Dhaka-Ashulia Elevated Expressway, assistance in the power and fuel sector, and assistance with the Sinopharm vaccine during Covid.

Chinese authorities have said they fully support Sheikh Hasina’s leadership in safeguarding the continuity of Bangladesh’s development and stability. They don’t like Western interference in internal affairs, such as elections in Bangladesh. The geopolitical equation in South Asia is getting more complicated by the day. The gradual intensification of Bangladesh-China relations is not viewed well by many of the world’s superpowers. But Sheikh Hasina knows how to accept the best opinion even in disagreement. Many international political experts believe that China may emerge as a superpower in world politics in the next 7-8 years. Maybe then the world will understand the correctness of Bangabandhu’s daughter’s decision.

The United States thinks that the weakening of Bangladesh’s democratic process means that China’s seat in Bangladesh is getting stronger. Neighboring friendly country India will never want China’s influence to increase in Bangladesh. India has therefore taken a very strategic role in US policy towards Bangladesh. As Bangladesh has maintained relations with China and Russia without joining the US-led Quad, on the other hand, Bangladesh has been introduced to the West as a democratic country in the free world. But now the biggest challenge will be to continue the democratic process in Bangladesh. If this challenge is met, there is no political power in South Asia that can stop the progress of Bangladesh.

At the invitation of the Communist Party of China, a delegation of Awami League led by Shammi Ahmed, International Affairs Secretary, Presidium member Muhammad Farooq Khan, member of the international affairs sub-committee Khaled Masud Ahmed, Tarun Kanti Das and Suman Kundu in the delegation visited last year. Members of the delegation also said they had gone on the invitation of the Communist Party of China to attend a South Asian conference. During the visit, Awami League leaders held bilateral meetings with leaders of China’s ruling party. Apart from contemporary political issues, the Rohingya issue was discussed there. Earlier on May 22, a delegation of 17 members of the Awami League headed by Farooq Khan visited China. Then in July, a delegation of 12 members of the 14-party alliance led by Awami League also visited China. Rashed Khan Menon, president of the Workers’ Party, led there. Ever since the establishment of diplomatic relations with independent Bangladesh, Bangladesh’s China friendship has progressed rapidly. The excellent diplomatic relationship between these two countries is truly a role model despite different political ideologies and differences in social and cultural systems.
The relationship between these two countries is recognized as an ideal example of a ‘win-win’ relationship. In the continuity of Bangladeshi politics, no matter which government is in power in Dhaka, the relationship with Beijing has always remained firm. The Bangladesh-China Friendship Bridges built one after another since the 1980s are standing tall as a sign of friendship between the two countries. Both countries have supported each other in the international arena as well. Besides close political and military ties, China is now Bangladesh’s largest trading partner and development partner. It is no longer unknown that Bangladesh’s geo-political, geo-strategic and geo-economic location at an important bend in the Indian Ocean has made Bangladesh, with a population of 170 million, an important country in terms of regional cooperation. Even in terms of global strategic cooperation, Bangladesh’s position is quite important. Since Bangladesh is the end of SAARC and the beginning of ASEAN, Bangladesh is considered as the connecting bridge between Southeast Asia and South Asia. As such, Bangladesh with a population of 170 million is the key to entering the world’s largest market. For these reasons, Bangladesh is a very important country in China’s ‘One Region One Road’ Belt and Road Initiative. Even the Bangladesh-India-Myanmar-China Economic Corridor, one of the total six economic corridors in the whole initiative consisting of about 150 countries of the world, also passes directly through Bangladesh. The cooperation relationship between Bangladesh and China is developing day by day, getting a touch of multi-dimensionality. The relationship which was limited to project collaboration in the eighties has now branched out into many other sectors. In addition to government investment, a large number of private Chinese investors are also present in the country.
Bangladesh can use China’s experience in post-corona economic recovery and overall poverty alleviation. Due to the economic packages taken by the Chinese government in the post-corona period, only China’s economy is still fresh among the big economies. Bangladesh itself has been able to do this very successfully so far. In light of the rural revitalization action plan, the government has undertaken the ‘Targeted Poverty Alleviation’ project. The bottom line is that despite the implementation of various projects to eradicate poverty, it has been seen that some people are deprived of the benefits. Renewable energy-based projects can be a good step. We hope that both Bangladesh and China are aware of this and several solar power projects are currently underway in cooperation with China. China keeps three things in mind when it comes to lending, namely ‘Coordinated Negotiation, Cooperative Development and Sharing’. Moreover, Chinese financial institutions start working only when a project is given a green signal by competent economists and related policymakers of our country. In light of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) policy of the Government of Bangladesh, the project is being managed jointly in partnership-based projects, so there is no such risk here.

China’s Special Economic Zone will be quite different. It will be an economic industrial zone and not an export processing zone. There may be a few ready-made garment factories, but that will not be the main industry. In this area, we will give priority to issues like eco-friendly energy, solar batteries, solar panels, electric vehicles, and information technology. China is quite good in these sectors and has more potential. BRI is analyzed from a very narrow perspective. BRI does not just mean connectivity, infrastructure and hardware, but also policy coordination, trade facilitation, economic cooperation, and people-to-people exchanges. Looking at the memorandum of understanding, China’s reduced debt and some project financings are in another process. Again, Bangladesh has to take responsibility for financing some of the projects on that list. It is becoming possible with Sheikh Hasina’s magical diplomacy.

Hiren Pandit is an essayist, researcher, and columnist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be contacted at

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