Parsing the Sino-Bangla joint statement

Posted in China, foreign policy by jrahman on March 30, 2010

In the west, it is a standard practice among analysts to parse statements issued after international summits, central bank deliberations, or major legislative breakthroughs. The practice, however, isn’t all that prevalent yet in Bangladesh. Since we try to break new grounds here at UV, following from the parsing of the Indo-Bangla joint communiqué, here we go to work on the Sino-Bangla statement.

This has been a surprisingly low key trip. The Prime Minister spent five days in China, much longer than her India trip. While this has been as successful a trip as any she has taken, there has been no massive reception at the airport. And even though she has covered much the same ground in this trip as in her India one (except the issue of border killings), the opposition has yet to call her out for selling the country. Finally, it is striking to see the bipartisan continuity in successive government’s China policy — who says everything in Bangladesh alternates once every five years?

Over the fold, the statement is analysed in light of: the government’s overall foreign policy agenda as articulated here; expectations from the trip as reported here; the Indo-Bangla commuique; and the Sino-Bangla communique from the Chinese premiere’s 2005 Dhaka trip.


  • The opening para and the first two points of the Statement are obvious formalities.

– As noted here, while the Statement in the Chinese government version reads … the successive leaders of the two countries made important contributions to the development of China-Bangladesh relations, the version floating around in Dhaka media says …the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, had visited China in 1953 and 1957.

– The two countries have announced …a “Closer Comprehensive Partnership of Cooperation” between China and Bangladesh from the strategic perspective and on the basis of the principles of longstanding friendship, equality, and mutual benefit. While it’s not clear what this is, since the two countries already agreed to a Comprehensive Partnership of Cooperation featuring long-term friendship, equality, and mutual benefit in 2005, we are glad that the partnership is becoming closer.

  • The third point contains the ‘deliverables’ of the trip. Let’s go through the steps the countries will take to intensify cooperation in trade, investment, agriculture, transportation and infrastructure development.

– China commits to provide preferential tariff treatment to more Bangladeshi products.

The 2005 communique didn’t refer to tariffs.

– Bangladesh government will encourage Bangladeshi enterprises to actively participate in the Shanghai World Expo 2010.

Expo 2010 is just a month away — does anyone know about Bangladeshi participation in this

– The two sides signed the Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation, the Framework Agreement on a Concessional Loan Provided by China to Bangladesh, and the Exchange of Letters on the Construction of the 7th Bangladesh-China Friendship Bridge at Kajirtek.

While these agreements are all welcome in principle, the terms of the concessional loan should be disclosed so that it can be compared with the $1b loans agreed with India. Plus, pre-trip media reports suggested Bangladesh would seek $2.2b in assistance — what was announced seems to fall short of this.

– Bangladesh welcomed the active involvement of Chinese enterprises in the energy, communication, transportation, industry and infrastructure sectors and China National Petroleum Corporation signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Oil and Gas Sector with Bangladesh Oil, Gas & Mineral Corporation and Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation.

China’s is an energy starved economy. The recent trial of the executives of the mining giant Rio Tinto shows the China’s seriousness in this matter. Many in Bangladesh worry about sovereignty when it comes to Indian investment. Many more decry western investment in out oil and gas sector — the only hartal under current government was on this. And yet, many others are concerned about corruption generated by such investments. As a low investment economy, I believe we should welcome foreign investors be they Indian, western or Chinese. But I would also expect the critics of Indian and western investment to demonstrate same level of scrutiny about Chinese investment in our energy sector.

The two sides agreed to … discuss the possibility of building road and rail links between the two countries.

While the Prime Minister visited Kunming, the Statement falls short of what was expected or the 2005 communique, which noted that the countries …were committed to the final running-through of Kunming-Chittagong road link. As noted in the Zafar Sobhan article linked above, connectivity is at the centre of the government’s foreign policy agenda. While fully supporting this agenda, it’s not clear how one should interprete the likelihood of Chittagong-Kunming link.

– Based on a 2005 Memorandum of Understanding on Agriculture Cooperation, the countries will cooperate on hybrid rice cultivation technology, agricultural machinery technology, exchange of germ plasm resources of crops, farm products processing and technical personnel training.

More unnoticed but very real continuity from the work of past governments.

The two sides agreed to carry out sustainable cooperation on hydrological data sharing and flood control of river Yarluzangbu/Brahmaputra. Based on a 2005 exchange of letters, the two sides agreed to strengthen cooperation on water resources management, hydrological data sharing, flood control and disaster reduction.

Again, more continuity from 2005, on a crucial issue for Bangladesh. Isn’t it striking how no one in Dhaka notes these things?

  • The fourth point notes various ways the two sides will commemorate the 35th anniversary of our relations.

The historically aware reader would know that China recognised Bangladesh in October 1975, after the political changeover of 15 August. It is a real sign of maturity from the current government that this sensitive historical fact is not allowed to get into the productive relationship between the two countries. It’s a shame that this kind of maturity cannot be shown by our politicians and partisan pundits when it comes to other matters.

  • The fifth point is about a bilateral consular agreement and the sixth point is about strenghtening exchanges and cooperation between the militaries and law enforcement departments.

Yet more continuation from the past.

  • Point seven specifically notes that Bangladesh believes there is but one China in the world, the Government of the Peoples’ Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole China, and Taiwan and Tibet are inalienable parts of the Chinese territory.

This is obviously a sensitive issue for the Chinese, and despite the manifold violation of human rights in Tibet and elsewhere in China, realpolitik means Bangladesh cannot afford to get involved in China’s internal matters. It is exactly the same thing when it comes to India — a point that is willingly ignored by many of our pundits (and irresponsible politicians) who refer to secessionists in the Indian northeast as ‘freedom fighters’ (while conveniently staying quiet about the plight of the Tibetans or Uighurs).

  • Points eight to ten are formal words about cooperation on regional and global issues, thanksgiving and invitation for future trips.

Nothing particularly notable here.

(Cross-posted in UV)


One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] Technical assistance from China, and the Sino-Bangla relations more broadly, reflects bi-partisan continuity unmatched by anything else in […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: