How Bangladesh Learned to Love the Belt and Road

How Bangladesh Learned to Love the Belt and Road

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent visit to China saw the two countries sign nine instruments — these included five agreements, three memorandums of understanding (MoUs) and a document — covering a range of sectors including power, investment, culture, tourism, and technology. Important among these is a Letter of Exchange under which China will provide Bangladesh with 2,500 metric tons of rice as aid for Rohingya refugees and two agreements that relate to China’s extension of loans worth $1.7 billion for Bangladesh’s power sector.

During Hasina’s visit, Beijing also assured Dhaka that it would better align its projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with Bangladesh’s development priorities, a key issue of concern for the Bangladeshis.

A member of the BRI since 2016, Bangladesh has received large amounts of funding from China for infrastructure projects. The two countries signed 27 agreements for investments and loans worth around $24 billion during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Dhaka that year. Together with the $13.6 billion invested in joint ventures earlier, Chinese investment in Bangladesh is said to be worth over $38 billion, making China Bangladesh’s single largest investor.

This makes Bangladesh the second-largest recipient (after Pakistan) of Chinese loans under BRI in South Asia.

Unlike in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, where there is growing concern over the implications of mounting indebtedness to China, the mood in Bangladesh is still optimistic over BRI’s potential. So what is Bangladesh doing right?

Sino-Bangladeshi relations have come a long way. Ties were troubled in the early years of Bangladesh’s independence. As a result of the Cold War and the region’s geopolitics, China not only backed Pakistan in Bangladesh’s liberation war in 1971 but was among the last countries to recognize newly independent Bangladesh. It also vetoed Bangladesh’s efforts to become a member of the United Nations.

It was only in 1976 that formal diplomatic relations were established and since then ties have strengthened significantly. In 2016, Bangladesh and China became strategic partners.

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