The dragon comes to Bangladesh


New Member
Mar 31, 2010
China's Vice President Xi Jinping appears to have overwhelmed the people of Bangladesh with his two-day visit. The statements made by some of the Bangladeshi leaders Xi met during his diplomatic tour have been surprising, to say the least. And they raise certain concerns.

From June 14-16, Xi held official talks with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, called on President Zillur Reheman and met opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia, among other engagements.

Xi Jinping's visit may be considered a reciprocal one to Sheikh Hasina's successful tour to China in March. Usually, a Prime Minister's visit is returned by the host country's Prime Minister. By that logic, it should have been Chinese Premier Web Jiabao who toured Bangladesh.

However, the Chinese visit must not be seen as an attempt to degrade the Bangladeshi Prime Minister.

Dhaka is becoming very important to Beijing's larger regional and global strategic security concept. The country is key to a forward movement strategy in the Indian Ocean region as well as to China's future oil security as the Indian Ocean sea lane is virtually a life line to the latter's energy store houses in the Middle East, Africa and Iran.

Xi Jinping is an ideal candidate to return the visit for several reasons.

First, he is the bridge from China's present to its future. Xi belongs to the Princeling faction in China's politics – the progeny and relatives of former powerful leaders. His father was a Vice Premier. He has relatives in the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which is a critical pillar of the country's politics, and the Communist Party of China (CCP). He is a technocrat and supports fast development. He is as liberal as a Chinese leader can be and speaks with clarity to his people, avoiding jargon.

That said, he is a thorough nationalist and subscribes to the concept of projecting a strong image of China to the world. Most importantly, he will head the Chinese nation, the CCP and the PLA. There lies his significance.

During Sheikh Hasina's tour of China, Bangladesh signed three treaties and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to expand bilateral co-operation. Xi Jinping took this forward with 40 million Yuan (approx. $5.8 million) grant for infrastructural development.

This $5.8 million is the concretization of the highly-publicized MoUs Sheikh Hasina signed. A tactic China often uses while giving assistance to less developed countries is to break up one agreement over a series of meetings to make it seem much larger than it actually is.

Sino-Bangladesh trade stands at $4.58 billion, of which China's exports to Bangladesh account for $4.4 billion. China is considering giving duty free access to some 5000 Bangladeshi products to balance the trade gap.

But Dhaka will have to wait on see the list of products before celebrating. With most countries, China's bilateral trade remains in its favour, and the powerhouse foul if any country tries to reverse the situation.

Since October 1975, when China accorded diplomatic recognition to Bangladesh, Beijing has contributed significantly to Bangladesh's infrastructural developments like roads and bridges, its defence sector and provided diplomatic support, especially when India was concerned. During the liberation war, China was on Pakistan's side.

Of course, it is in Bangladesh's interest to maintain this co-operation. As a Bangladeshi commentator said after the Xi Jinping visit, China has the money and wherewithal, and Bangladesh has the need. Any sudden change in suppliers, especially in the defence sector, is time-consuming.

It is no surprise that the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) lauded Xi's visit and Sino-Bangladesh relations, and castigated India in the same breath.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Chairperson Khaleda Zia requested Xi for assistance to build the Bangladesh army, navy and air force into a "three dimensional defence force to maintain stability in the region". All three wings of the Bangladesh armed forces are built on acquisition of weapons and training from China.

During the last phase of the BNP-JEI government, China supplied the Bangladesh Navy with the C-802 surface-to-surface anti-ship missile with a range of 120 kms, and mounted on a frigate. The C-802 is an attack weapon. Iran is using the same missile supplied by China for its Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz operations.

Khaleda's request is perplexing, to say the least. She has advisors in her party who have served in high positions in the Bangladesh army. Does she have any idea of the kind of force that Bangladesh would need to intervene militarily in the region? Not even India and Pakistan speak in these terms. No country threatens Bangladesh.

If she was thinking her statement would gladden the hearts of the Chinese, she is sorely mistaken. If it was to score a point against India, it did not wash. This only reflected the immaturity of a political leader who has a mindless antipathy towards India.

This is unfortunate not only for Bangladesh-India relations, but for the South Asian region also. It does not help Bangladesh in any way to hold India as the primary enemy, both ideologically and politically.

Historically, of course, the BNP which came into existence in 1978, has close party-to-party relations with China. Beijing refused to recognize Bangladesh after liberation in 1971 as they perceived the Awami League government came into power by dismembering Pakistan with India's assistance.

Hence, for decades after 1975, a triangular relationship was forged between China, Pakistan and the anti-India political sections in Bangladesh. The JEI formed part of this triumvirate, along with the BNP.

It is well known that China opted to support the BNP-JEI coalition against the Awami League for the 2006 election, which was delayed due to other reasons. The Chinese government saw a victory for the Awami League as a rise of Indian influence in Bangladesh.

Given this background, it was rather surprising that President Zillur Reheman thanked Xi Jinping for China's assistance when Bangladesh was in a very difficult situation after independence. This is what the state-run China Daily of June 16 reported.

China remained anti-Bangladesh for five years after its independence, and then threw in its lot with the anti-liberation forces which came to power through a bloody coup.

Whether Zillur Reheman made a slip in his enthusiasm to please the Chinese Vice President, or whether he was given a China-serving brief by his advisors, is not known. What is interesting, however, is that this comment was published in the Chinese official media, not so much in the Bangladeshi media.

There is another issue: the Chinese drive to construct a deep sea port in Chittagong, and build a road from Kunming to Chittagong through Myanmar. From the Bangladesh point of view, such an enterprise would be a bonanza.

Neighbouring countries including India, Nepal, Bhutan, along with Bangladesh and China could use this port. Bangladesh will earn revenue and the entire Chittagong region could be developed.

India has not voiced any opposition to the proposed China-constructed deep sea port overlooking the Bay of Bengal. A similar Indian initiative would be used by the Bangladesh opposition to attack the Awami League government as India's puppet.

At the same time, the Bangladesh government must make a strategic calculation from a long-term perspective.

First, why is Myanmar still opposed to the Kunming-Chittagong road through Bangladesh? Next, why did Myanmar withdraw from the agreement to construct the Kunming- Sittwe road to give China access to the Indian Ocean when China was prepared to pick up the cost?

The reason was ostensibly that China wanted its exports and imports through this route without any Myanmar customs inspection. Why did China decide to scrap this very important transport route on the mere issue of customs inspection? There was certainly something that China did not want to be disclosed. The question is, what?

Bangladesh must assess the proposed China-built Chittagong deep sea port in terms of China's oil security drive, the China-built Gwadar deep sea port in Pakistan, Chinese power projection and the eventual deployment of the Chinese navy in the region.

Incidentally, the navy has already started sailing in the region. China's plan is to eventually use the Chittagong port to lay oil pipe lines to Kunming, through which to transport oil and gas to the Middle East, Africa and Iran.

A mere transportation hub in Chittagong should not be a matter of concern. However, since China's declared policy is to protect its oil lines militarily and not with the assistance of the countries in that region, it makes for a very different scenario.

If the Chittagong deep sea port project comes through, Bangladesh must ensure that no country uses the port for military purposes, including transshipment of supplies to their militaries.

Bangladesh will have to think whether it wants to see a militarized Bay of Bengal. The BNP and the JEI will regale at such a situation. They have demonstrated an irrational attitude.
India will certainly stand not by quietly under such circumstances. Other powers interested in the region will also step in.

On the other hand, India would understand the growing Sino-Bangladesh relations for economic imperatives. It is fine if Bangladesh tries to balance relations between India and China. But if it leads to militarization of the Bay of Bengal, it is hardly acceptable for India, and even less helpful for Bangladesh. Dhaka needs to introspect very deeply.

Bhaskar Roy, who retired recently as a senior government official with decades of national and international experience, is an expert on international relations and Indian strategic interests.


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
If you leave you backyard unattended there will always be encroachers to take advantage of it.This is same wrt to indian neighborhood.India never paid attention to its neighbors,today we have Chinese all over in indian neighborhood.The failure of indian foreign policy can be gauged from the fact how india lost most close ally nepal to china.

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