Why Sheikh Hasina’s Upcoming Visit to China is Important?

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After almost a decade, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is going to visit to China from July 8-11 for the second time in her assumption of power for the fourth consecutive term. Undoubtedly the visit holds significant importance for Bangladesh. After a successful visit to India, visiting China can be described as a fine example of Balancing act by Sheikh Hasina.

Since China is the largest trading and a major development partner of Bangladesh, its role in Bangladesh’s growth trajectory cannot be overstated. China has provided significant support to Bangladesh during the COVID-19 pandemic and in its post-pandemic economic recovery efforts. The upcoming visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to China becomes important for several reasons.

First, one can look at the prospects of economic cooperation. China is Bangladesh’s largest trading partner, with annual exports of around $15 billion to Bangladesh and imports of $900 million from Bangladesh, resulting in a huge trade deficit. During the visit, it is expected that China will take steps to reduce this deficit by signing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Bangladesh, which could help narrow the gap. It is also expected that there will be a game changing US$20 billion bilateral economic cooperation deal between two countries. Besides, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is expected to be signed for the transactions in taka and yuan. Additionally, a deal on credit assistance from China to tackle the dollar crisis and the diminishing foreign exchange reserves is also expected to be signed as China expressed interest in providing loans in yuan few months ago. Another crucial economic aspect that Bangladesh has long been pressing China, is the reduction of interest rates on Chinese loans also expected to be fulfilled.

Second, in the visit, Bangladesh should prioritize Blue Economy Cooperation. In fact, the visit provides an opportunity for Bangladesh to seek China’s cooperation in areas such as technology transfer, funding for deep-sea fishing, and renewable energy exploration. China has been at the forefront of global drives towards propelling “blue growth”. It is famous for its Exclusive Economic Zones on the Shandong Peninsula. There is a wide range of prospects for sharing those experiences and expertise between the two countries. China’s expertise in deep-sea fishing and renewable energy technologies could significantly benefit Bangladesh’s endeavors to extract the potential of its vast maritime resources.  Collaboration with China is imperative for Bangladesh’s potential Blue Economy. Bangladesh must prioritize that in the table of discussion. Extensive cooperation with China in Blue Economy would open the door of increased exports, job creation and sustainable development.

Third, China’s cooperation in ensuring Rohingya Refugee repatriation also becomes significant. The Rohingya refugee crisis has been a major concern for Bangladesh, with over a million Rohingyas received shelter in the country after fleeing persecution in Myanmar. China’s influence over the Myanmar government as well as Myanmar’s insurgent groups makes it a crucial player in facilitating the repatriation of these refugees. During the visit, Bangladesh is expected to prioritize the Rohingya issue and seek China’s active involvement in convincing the Myanmar government to take back the refugees. China’s success in this matter would not only alleviate the burden on Bangladesh but also contribute to regional stability and security.

Fourth, one can also look at the regional importance of this visit. Both Bangladesh and China are important regional powers with significant influence in their respective spheres. The strategic location of Bangladesh between South and Southeast Asia, coupled with its growing economic strength, makes it an attractive partner for regional cooperation. From the perspective of greater geopolitics, Bangladesh and China together hold a stronger regional cooperation in South Asia. Besides, China’s role as a global economic powerhouse and its increasing involvement in regional affairs make it a crucial player in South Asia. The visit provides an opportunity for both countries to strengthen their regional influence and explore avenues for cooperation in areas such as infrastructure development, trade, and investment.

Fifth, Bangladesh is also aware of geopolitical context of bilateral relations. India-China competition and Sino-US rivalry have generated diplomatic pressure on country like Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. However, based on the principle of ‘friendship to all, malice towards none’ Bangladesh remains deeply committed about economic development as the paramount feature of Bangladesh-China relations. Sheikh Hasina’s visit clearly shows that Bangladesh is fully focused on financial and infrastructure projects which are integral to its development vision of 2041 – transforming into a smart and developed nation.

Finally, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s upcoming visit to China is a significant event that holds immense importance not only for Bangladesh but also for China, and the region as a whole. Since China has been under pressure due to the Taiwan situation, it would aim to maintain Bangladesh’s support as always on the “One China” policy. Most importantly, from the perspective of the geopolitics of the world and since Bangladesh is significant partner of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China would need Bangladesh by its side to harness its diplomatic goals. By strengthening their partnership, Bangladesh and China can contribute to regional stability, prosperity, and sustainable development. Thus, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to China is a crucial event that will have far-reaching implications for Bangladesh’s future. It is an opportunity to solidify the country’s position as a key player in regional affairs and to secure the necessary support for its continued growth and development.

– Dr. Md. Shariful Islam is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA). He is also an Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Rajshahi.

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