Representatives of Bangladesh’s Awami League (AL) and the Communist Party of China (CPC) on Friday signed the first-ever memorandum of understanding (MoU) between their countries’ ruling parties in an effort to boost cooperation, officials said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who leads Awami, and CPC Central Committee minister Song Tao expressed hope during a meeting in Dhaka that the two parties would strengthen their ties in the days to come, national news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) reported.
“The MoU has been signed to improve the relationship and communication between the two parties. It will help establish an exchange of visits and training at the party level in both countries,” Hasina spokesman Md Nazrul Islam told BenarNews.
Islam said the prime minister sought support from China in repatriating to Myanmar Rohingya refugees to Myanmar who are sheltering at camps in southeastern Bangladesh, according to BSS.
More than 700,000 Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine state fled to refugee camps in and around Cox’s Bazar district since August 2017, when Myanmar’s military cracked down on members of the stateless ethnic minority in response to deadly attacks against army and police posts by a Rohingya insurgent group.
The two sides also discussed Chinese investment in infrastructure, energy and agriculture in Bangladesh.
“China is very developed in the agriculture sector. So we want their cooperation for development of our agriculture,” Islam quoted Hasina as saying, BSS reported.
Hasina said 700 acres had been allocated for Chinese investors to establish an economic zone in southern Chittagong district. In addition, China is establishing a gas pipeline in Myanmar and could tap into that line in the new economic zone, BSS said.
One Belt, One Road
The projects line up with the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan where China aims to link Beijing with Asia, Europe and Africa by building massive highways, railways, ports and other infrastructure.
“Chinese President Xi Jinping is one of the major powerful men in the world and he wants to increase his country’s involvement under the OBOR policy incorporating India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal,” Hasan Tareque, an official with the Communist Party of Bangladesh, told BenarNews.
Critics have complained that China wants these countries to become dependent on its economy through loan traps, he said.
“Awami League, by signing this MoU, wants to give a message to the business community that it is business friendly. AL, at the same time, wants to lessen its dependence on the United States in terms of foreign policy and wants to take a multi-centric approach,” Tareque said.
Meanwhile, economist Anu Muhammad said the two parties had a similar autocratic stance.
“The Awami League government wants growth-based development at any cost. They are not bothering about devastation of land, forests, water, river, environment and the ecosystem,” he told BenarNews.
“China also has the same policy regarding business in Bangladesh. Most of the China projects in Bangladesh are devastating for the environment,” he said.
The signing came just days after the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry announced that bilateral trade with China totaled U.S. $12.4 billion (1 trillion taka) in 2017-2018 and was expected to reach $18 billion (1.5 trillion taka) by 2021, according to Bangladesh media reports.