Bangladesh’s history of deprivations, injustice, discrimination and torment that the nation had to go through at the hands of Pakistan is still glaringly inscribed in our minds. For this reason, fighting for independence was the only choice for Bangladesh. Under those crucial circumstances India proved its brotherly bonds with us by standing beside Bangladesh on diplomatic, military and humanitarian fronts. Over ten million refugees from Bangladesh took shelter on Indian soil. Most of the freedom fighters of Bangladesh were trained up in India who moved back into Bangladesh to fight for the country’s liberation. In this way the relationship between Bangladesh and India is written in golden letters.
Geopolitical analysts have frequently stated that China instigated the Rohingya influx into Bangladesh. China is always on Myanmar’s side which is why the international powers including the United Nations are not being able to persuade Myanmar to repatriate Rohingyas back into Myanmar.
Bangladesh should not fall in the pitfall of Chinese debt trap diplomacy. Chinese loans have endangered the economy of many countries including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Kenya, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Serbia, Montenegro and so on. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is being spearheaded by China. It’s part of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) program. China’s affiliation with Karachi Stock Exchange has devastated the share market of Pakistan. It should be noted that Pakistan graduated from least developed countries (LDC) in 1969 but Bangladesh has crossed Pakistan’s economy in all terms.
Sri Lanka is currently witnessing a severe foreign exchange crisis, which has been increased manifold by its inability to meet the monetary obligations to China on several projects. The situation further deteriorated as Sri Lanka failed to meet the maturity dates of the International Sovereign Bonds (ISBx) debt, amounting to over $8 billion in projects. Sri Lanka had to hand over its Hambantota Port to the Chinese authorities after failing to pay back Chinese loans. It is to mention that Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a long-term plan to fund and build infrastructure linking China to the rest of the world but the project is dubbed as” debt-trap diplomacy” by the US for all developing and poorer nations.
The Asian Age published a number of articles and reports on the threats posed by Chinese debt trap diplomacy. The Asian Age hopes the authorities concerned will safeguard Bangladesh from economic disasters so that Bangladesh does not turn out to be another Sri Lanka.
The BRI has six main economic corridors: (1) the New Eurasian Land Bridge; (2) the China-Central Asia-West Asia Corridor; (3) the China-Pakistan Corridor; (4) the Bangladesh-China- Myanmar Corridor; (5) the China-Mongolia-Russia Corridor; (6) the China-Indochina Peninsula Corridor.
History shows that China opposed the independence of Bangladesh while the glorious Liberation War of 1971 was going on. China has always been the closest ally to Pakistan. Three million martyrs who got killed during 1971 were shot with Chinese bullets. Thus getting closer to China ideologically contradicts with the essence of 1971. Pakistan and China both should apologize to Bangladesh for the war crimes committed in Bangladesh during the Liberation War of 1971.
China even did not recognize Bangladesh while Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was alive. China acknowledged Bangladesh after Bangabandhu was assassinated. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did not visit China after Bangladesh’s independence.
China is being denigrated by human rights organizations for its repression on the Uyghur Muslims. Trade deficit of 33 billion dollars has jolted Bangladesh’s economy as import costs have by far exceeded export earnings. Bangladesh is having highest trade deficit with China. Bangladesh imports Chinese goods of around 11 billion dollars every year while our export volume to China is less than 1 billion dollars.
China is at the back responsible for the Rohingya influx into Bangladesh. The Rohingya refugees have now become a security threat to Bangladesh as some of these refugees are getting involved in various criminal activities. Even the environmental sanctity and biodiversity of the concerned areas are being destroyed by the Rohingya refugees. Myanmar violated the airspace of Bangladesh a couple of times but Bangladesh military forces showed self-restraint.
Former President Ziaur Rahman initiated and augmented Bangladesh’s diplomatic ties with China after the killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Ziaur Rahman’s political views were to a great extent identical to the notions of Chinese Communist Party. A great number of politicians who believed in Chinese communism packed hands with Ziaur Rahman and joined Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) after 1975. Thus BNP and Chinese Communist Party are political allies to each other.
We should also speak the truth against religious extremists, communal organizations and radical groups. Fanatical Islamic parties like Hefazat-E-Islam threaten communal harmony in Bangladesh. Communal gangs vandalized Hindu people’s homes and temples during the Durga Puja festival of 2021. Hefazat-E-Islam activists smashed Bangabandhu’s sculptures in some parts of Bangladesh in 2021.
Socio-economic justice and equity were the main watchwords with which the glorious Liberation War was fought. Keeping this in view we should keep away from generating discrimination in our country on religious or any other basis. We do not want any isolation to take place between the believers of different religions in our country. It opposes the ideals with which the Liberation War was fought and it contradicts with the ideology of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
We must remember that Bangladesh exports most of its products to European Union (EU) and United States of America. Expatriate Bangladeshi workers send remittances to Bangladesh mostly from the Middle East countries which are politically allied to the United States and EU.
The Russia-Ukraine War has caused economic instability to the whole world, particularly to the developing countries. For this reason Bangladesh has to take its economic steps very cautiously while fuel price and food costs have escalated all over the world.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has deepened the decades-long strategic relationship between Pakistan and China. But it has also sparked criticism, including that it burdens Pakistan with mountains of debt, allowing China to use “debt-trap diplomacy” to gain access to strategic assets. While some of this criticism is valid, a closer look indicates that concerns around debt sustainability, tepid economic growth and overall economic and social instability in Pakistan predate CPEC. Moreover, it is the lack of long-term structural reforms that has stymied equitable socioeconomic progress in Pakistan.
The foundations of CPEC, part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), were laid during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Islamabad in May 2013. At that time, Pakistan was reeling from regular bomb blasts, chronic power shortages and weak economic growth. China made a commitment to play an integral role in Pakistan’s economy, with Li Keqiang exhorting both countries to focus on carrying out priority projects in connectivity, energy development and power generation and promoting the building of a China-Pakistan economic corridor.
China’s ability to exert influence on Pakistan’s economy has grown substantially in recent years, mainly due to the fact that Beijing is now Islamabad’s largest creditor. According to documents released by Pakistan’s finance ministry, Pakistan’s total publicly guaranteed external debt stood at $44.35 billion in June 2013, just 9.3 percent of which was owed to China. By April 2022, this external debt had ballooned to $90.12 billion, with Pakistan owing 27.4 percent —$24.7 billion — of its total external debt to China, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Debt-trap diplomacy is one of the significant hallmarks of China’s foreign policy. Over the turn of the century, as Beijing’s economic clout began to expand inexorably, China started saddling borrowing nations with mammoth debts so as to increase its leverage over them. After Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Venezuela appears to be the latest on the list of nations staggering under the shadow of China’s crippling debts.
Every child in Bangladesh is born with a foreign debt of 23,425 taka. World Bank, IMF, JAICA provide loans to Bangladesh at 0.75% interest rate but Chinese loans to Bangladesh come with an interest rate of 2.45%. Simultaneously there are terms and conditions like hiring consultants from China and purchasing Chinese equipment. There have been slating remarks on some Chinese projects and public-private-partnership projects (PPP) with allegations of over-evaluation—a point that deserves to be noted seriously by Bangladesh government. So, Bangladesh will have to think about further taking loans from China so that we do not face devastating consequences like Sri Lanka or Pakistan.
Dr. Jesmin Chowdhury is
Editor-in-Chief of The Asian Age.