Foreign affairs experts at an online symposium discussed the efforts of Bangladesh and China to transform all potentials into reality in the building of a brighter future keeping the growing relationship unhurt amidst the crossfire of geopolitics.
Experts both from Bangladesh and China assessed the state of relations between Bangladesh and China and identified the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the efforts to take it forward.The virtual roundtable titled “Bangladesh China Relations: Prognosis of the Future was hosted by the Cosmos Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Cosmos Group, as a part of its ongoing Ambassador’s Lecture Series.
The opening remarks were delivered by the Cosmos Foundation Chairman, Enayetullah Khan. The session was chaired by Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, renowned scholar-diplomat and former Advisor on Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh Caretaker Government.
Ambassador (retd) Tariq A. Karim, CPD Distinguished Fellow Dr. Debapriya Bhattacharya, former Foreign Secretary Shamsher M. Chowdhury BB, Assistant Researcher of the Institute for International Studies at Yunnan University Dr Zou Yingmeng, Assistant Research Fellow at China Institute of International Studies Dr Ning Shengnan, former Ambassador Serajul Islam and Dhaka University Professor Dr Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir comprised the panel of discussants.
A Strategic Partnership of Corporation: Li
Delivering the keynote address, the Ambassador of China to Bangladesh, Li Jiming, said: “Looking into the future, we’ve every reason to expect a stronger Strategic Partnership of Cooperation between China and Bangladesh.”
Ambassador Li highlighted five key areas where Bangladesh and China can strengthen the current partnership. These are namely deepening anti-pandemic cooperation, advancing the Belt and Road Initiative, fighting climate change, resolving hotspot issues and upholding multilateralism.
The Chinese envoy emphasised that the 100th Anniversary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) is coming soon and said the CPC, under the leadership of General-Secretary Xi Jiming, is ready to work with the government and political parties of Bangladesh to make our Strategic Partnership of Cooperation stronger and more vibrant.
History as Mirror to Move Forward
In his inaugural remarks, Chairman Enayetullah Khan, underscored the importance of the bilateral relationship to both China and Bangladesh. In this regard, the contribution of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would be “indelibly etched” in our minds. He said the sheer volume and breadth of contacts between the two peoples covered a vast terrain in history that is often overlooked. He recalled the interview he had done long ago with the current Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi.
“One of the pearls of wisdom Wang Yi told me was that China's basic policy is to look at history as a mirror to move forward”. He added that Bangladesh China ties are civilizational and are stakeholders on both sides to do everything possible to widen and deepen the full range of the relationship.
In his chair's remarks, Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, focused on China's world view and the implications of its phenomenal rise for the world including Bangladesh. He said, “the rise of China is perhaps the key feature of contemporary times”. He added that already the second largest economy in the world, China is poised to be the first sooner than expected.
The eyes of China, Dr Chowdhury said, are fixed on more than the development and prosperity. International good will was being sought through its vaccine diplomacy. In global politics, there was always the possibility of a friction between a rising power and the currently preponderant one. He added that the World hoped that such a conflict could be avoided and ultimately the major powers, China and the United States could bind themselves into a web of collaboration leading to global stability.
“That would be the true fruition of what president Xi Jinping calls China Dream. That is also the broad global metrics on which the Bangladesh-China relations will be played out”.
Geopolitical Matrix of Bangla-China Relations
Former Foreign Secretary Shamshir Mobin Chowdhury said that in the area of foreign policy, Bangladesh believed in using diplomacy as the first line of defence and as the major tool for the resolution of disputes. “It has been consistent in pursuing mutually beneficial and multilateral, regional and trans-regional relationship. It has demonstrated its capacity and resolve to deal firmly with extremism and terrorism.”
The former ambassador said there are of course analysts who want to look at Bangladesh’s relationship and ties with the countries of the region as there are competitions among some of the major countries in this regard. “I personally view this as a healthy development that can benefit all, especially the major countries.”
As Ambassador Li Jiming has talked about the issue of climate change, Shamsher thinks it is very important that all keep this practice in mind. He added, “We have to work together…in this context, Bangladesh’s relation with China is very critical and very important. I also want to maintain here that we believe in enhanced connectivity, and we believe in close strategic partnerships, not just bilaterally, but also in the border Asia Pacifica context.”
He agreed with Ambassador Li that vaccine nationalism should be replaced by vaccine internationalism. “This is where I think all have to come forward and play our role together because the virus will stay at least for some more time.”
Dr Zou, another Chinese expert, said Sino-Bangladesh relations were acquiring a life of their own, driven by common goals and mutual benefits.
“With the friendly diplomatic ties, we Chinese and Bangladeshis have shared views, opinions and have truly tested friendship, which is the central theme of making Sino-Bangladesh relations stronger,” he said.
Dr Zou expressed the hope that the experience of cooperation will fulfill the two nations with confidence and expectations of joining hands and moving forward in the future.
Dr. Debapriya Bhattacharya said China-Bangladesh relationship should not get hurt in the crossfire of geopolitics as their projections suggest that the economic relationship in the coming days will become more and more politicised. Within that politicised economic relationship architecture, he is, it is important how they really protect the Chino-Bangla relationship on its own ground.
“The independence of policymaking and the sovereignty of policy making will be critical for Bangladesh in the coming days,” Dr. Debapriya said adding that Bangladesh, most importantly, as an equal and a substantive partner retains its independence of policymaking. He urged that following Bangladesh's graduation from the list of least developed countries, China should continue to provide preferential market access.
Relations Beyond Diplomacy
Chinese expert Dr Ning Shengnan said they believe Bangladesh is growing to be the model of development across the South Asia region. She said the Sino- Bangladesh friendship lies not only in their diplomatic relations, but also upon the same development philosophy. “China and Bangladesh both initiate the process of industrialization from labor-intensive industries.”
She added “Therefore faced with this strong wave of anti-globalization, it is necessary for China and Bangladesh to jointly stand out and defend the global free trade system,” she said.
Former Ambassador Serajul Islam said the prognosis leads to an excellent way by which Bangladesh and China can aspire to a future of excellent cooperation.
He listed a number of critical projects and said that Bangladesh and China were creating a basis of collaboration in order to implement them in a mutually beneficial manner.
Dr Rashed Titumir said that there are at least three necessary conditions for growth and stability – production networks between the two countries; capital invested on risk-sharing basis rather than transfer of risk, that may lead to accumulated debt and transfer of technology.
The analyst said realizing potentials is also plagued by a number of geo-strategic intricacies. “Bangladesh does not share borders with China. For Bangladesh to join in any connectivity initiative involves a third country.” Most importantly, he said, sustenance of a partnership is contingent upon normative legitimacy, which arises out of broad-based social approval across the political spectrum and peoples in both countries.
Speaking at the end, Former Ambassador Tariq Karim explained Bangladesh’s foreign policy as inundated by the father of the nation as “Friendship towards all and malice towards none”. He underscored the need to be pragmatic and the necessity of keeping sovereign independence of Bangladesh intact with dignity and self-respect.
He observed that “It will focus on economic development, cooperation and trade with all countries in its own national interests. I emphasize that whatever we do and whatever any country does is essentially to consolidate, to promote, to project and to advance its own national interests”.
Bangla-China: A Shared Dream
In his concluding remarks, Chairman Enayetullah Khan referred to China's Road and Belt Initiative which holds out enormous promise for enhancing connectivity with nations far and near.
He added “It is a great source of pride and happiness to Bangladeshis as they see China’s rise in the global scene. We know that the Chinese people have a dream; so do we in Bangladesh as we endeavor to achieve our goal of a middle income status,” he said”.