DHAKA, Bangladesh: Bangladesh sought China’s cooperation in repatriating Rohingya refugees to Myanmar during the visit of Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday, who promised better trade ties, investments and support for infrastructure development in the South Asian nation.
China used its influence in Myanmar to broker a November 2017 agreement to bring back some 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled persecution in Myanmar in August that year. Despite efforts to deport them, the refugees refused for fear of danger in Myanmar, heightened by military takeovers last year.
Wang arrived in Dhaka on Saturday and met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen. Bangladesh’s junior minister for foreign affairs, Shahriar Alam, said they discussed bilateral and global issues before his departure on Sunday.
Bangladesh has strong relations with China, a significant trade partner mostly for raw materials. But maintaining close ties with Beijing is challenging for Bangladesh, balancing diplomatic and trade relationships with India and the United States, China’s main rivals.
More than 500 Chinese companies are active in Bangladesh. China is involved in all major infrastructure projects, such as seaports, a river tunnel and highways, and helped build its largest bridge over the River Padma for $3.6 billion.
Amid recent tensions between China and Taiwan, Bangladesh issued a statement reiterating its support for the “one-China” policy. After winning elections in 2008, Hasina’s administration closed the Taiwanese business representative office in Dhaka in response to a request from China. Since then, China has increased its engagement in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s garment industry heavily depends on China for raw materials, which brings in more than 80% of foreign currency from exports.
On Sunday, Wang told Hasina during a courtesy call that his country considers Bangladesh, a “strategic development partner” and would continue to support it, said Ihsanul Karim, the presidential press secretary.
The United News of Bangladesh agency reported that Wang also promised to stand beside Bangladesh “on all issues at international forums.”
The Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha, a state-run news agency, reported that Hasina raised the global tensions caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions against Moscow, saying “people (across the world) are enduring difficult times … South Asia, Southeast Asia and China can work together for economic progress.”
Alam said that Wang agreed to expand trade benefits by raising to 98% duty-free access from the current 97% of Bangladeshi products and services to Chinese markets.
“It’s good news for Bangladesh as we have a thriving economy based on exports,” Alam said. “Now they have offered another 1% from Sept. 1,” he said, adding that the new tax advantage is likely to include garments, woven and other products that had previously faced some barriers.
On Sunday, Bangladesh and China signed or renewed four agreements and memorandums of understanding on disaster management, infrastructure and cultural exchanges.
Analyst Munshi Faiz Ahmad, who served as Bangladeshi ambassador in Beijing, said Wang’s visit was very significant for both countries.
“To resolve the Rohingya crisis Bangladesh needs support from China. This visit will help strengthen the bilateral relations,” Ahmad told The Associated Press.
“To us, China is very important. We also need to maintain good relations with India and the United States as they are also very important development partners of Bangladesh. There is nothing to be afraid of because of Bangladesh’s close ties with China,” he said.