Bangladesh refuses to become China's lackey despite being part of Belt, Road initiative

Bangladesh Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal.

Despite being part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and enjoying growth in trade and investments, Bangladesh refuses to be China’s lackey.

Recently, when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed his desire to visit Dhaka in the first week of August, his Bangladeshi counterpart AK Abdul Momen categorically asked him to reschedule his visit due to his scheduled official engagements in New York and Cambodia, Bangladesh Live News reported citing Daily Star.

Momen conveyed to Wang through diplomatic channels that he should arrive in Bangladesh in the second week of August.

Earlier in May 2021, the Bangladesh government gave China’s envoy to Dhaka, Li Jiming a soulful lecture and asked him to maintain “decency and decorum” after he warned Dhaka from a public platform to desist from joining the Quadrilateral Group.

“Obviously it will not be a good idea for Bangladesh to participate in this small club of four because it will substantially damage our bilateral relationship,” China’s Ambassador to Dhaka, Li Jiming warned Bangladesh at a meeting organised by the Diplomatic Correspondents Association on May 12, 2021.

As expected, it was followed by the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry’s strongly-worded statement.

“As a sovereign country, Bangladesh will determine the course of its foreign policy in the interest of its people,” Momen said in a sharply worded riposte.

These lines depict that Bangladesh will not compromise with its national interest howsoever strong be it financial or other allurements from China, reported Bangladesh Live News.

Meanwhile, between 2011 and 2021, China invested USD 10 billion in infrastructure in Bangladesh but according to some media reports, Beijing had missed fulfilling the promises on several deals signed during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Dhaka in October 2016.

After missing several deadlines, work on Karnaphuli multiple road tunnel project in Bangladesh’s Chittagong district, inaugurated by Chinese President Xi Jinping virtually in 2017, started in 2020.

Being built by China Communication and Construction Company Limited, the 9.3 km long tunnel project would be completed not before 2023, said the Daily Star in its recent report.

On August 6, the Chinese Foreign Minister arrived in Dhaka and signed four Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) and agreements to boost cooperation between the two countries.

Earlier on China-Taiwan tension, Momen said it is closely following the developments in the Taiwan Strait and urges all parties concerned to exercise utmost restraint and refrain from any actions that may aggravate tensions and undermine peace and stability in the region and beyond, according to Bangladesh Live News.

“Bangladesh reiterates her firm adherence to the One China policy and urges the parties concerned to resolve their differences in accordance with the UN Charter and through dialogue,” the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

On the economic front too, the two countries are not on the same page. The South Asian country, which avoids becoming another Sri Lanka or Pakistan economically, is these days negotiating with the IMF for funds to manage the rising import costs.

This comes even as Bangladesh’s finance minister warned that developing countries must think twice about taking more loans through China’s Belt and Road Initiative as global inflation and slowing growth add to the strains on indebted emerging markets.

According to Financial Times, AHM Mustafa Kamal said Beijing needed to be more rigorous in evaluating its loans amid concern that poor lending decisions risked pushing countries into debt distress.

 He pointed to Sri Lanka, where Chinese-backed infrastructure projects that failed to generate returns had exacerbated a severe economic crisis.

“Whatever the situation [that] is going on worldwide, everybody will be thinking twice to agree to this project,” he said in an interview, referring to BRI. “Everybody is blaming China. China cannot disagree. It’s their responsibility.”  he said.