Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is poised to pay a much hyped and publicised visit to China from July 1 to 5. Hasina now looks politically reassured after her massive electoral victory at the end of last year.
An overwhelming mandate accorded to a democratically elected leader , boosts his or her political profile , both nationally and internationally . Buoyant with this extraordinary triumph, with her political adversaries practically decimated , Hasina has been touring a number of foreign countries in the last six months and her body language while talking to her international counterparts signals that confidence is oozing and all domestic irritants remain well under check.
The Bangladesh Foreign Minister , Dr AK Abdul Momen held a well attended press conference in Dhaka on June 28 adding more hype to the already well propagated China visit by Hasina. It would also seem that Bangladesh is trying to send feelers to China that both countries already enjoy a special relationship and this proposed visit will further reinforce ties bilaterally. Importantly, Hasina’s entourage of ministers and bureaucrats will be accompanied by a high level business delegation.
At the press conference, it was disclosed that as many as eight MoUs will be signed between the two countries during Hasina’s presence in Beijing which will principally cover the power sector. This apart, both sides are expected to discuss riverine matters including on Brahmaputra river. There is also a likelihood of commercial loans and formation of various working groups to discuss threadbare the nuts and bolts of bilateral matters.
However, the chief focus of Hasina on her Bangladesh visit will be to try and tell China to prevail upon Myanmar to take back Rohingya refugees who were militarily pushed into Bangladesh from August 2017 and whose number has now swollen to well over seven million. This is an arduous challenge and given the extraordinary bilateral ties existing between China and Myanmar, Bangladesh hopes that Myanmar would listen to Chinese pleas on its behalf. To buttress her argument , Hasina is also expected to highlight terror concerns emanating from the presence of such a large number of Rohingyas on BD soil, fraught with the perils of radicalisation.
Also, Bangladesh is looking forward to implementing critical decisions taken during Chinese President Xi Jenping’s last visit to Dhaka in 2016. Now that Bangladesh has thrown itself into the Belt and Road Initiative, her China visit would be worth watching amidst the fast changing equations between different countries and ongoing spat between the US and China on tarrif issues.
Hasina is also slated to attend the summer Davos being organised under the aegis of World Economic Forum at Dalian. Such participation would indicate that Bangladesh’s focus will be on economic issues as well in an apparent attempt to meet her vision of Bangladesh as an economic powerhouse by 2021, coinciding with completion of 50 years of Bangladesh independence.
There is a strong pro-China lobby active in Bangladesh including in the Prime Minister’s office that has been advocating for long for Bangladesh to tilt towards China for a vibrant partnership. Earlier , Bangladesh had indicated going for procurement of Chinese submarines possibly to strengthen its Naval fleet for assured defence of Bangladesh’s security. This had raised heckles in some quarters in India but such apprehensions were put to rest after India was assured that such a development was not at the expense of Indo -BD relations . Hasina will hold separate ‘one on one’ meetings with President Xi Jenping and her Chinese counterpart , Li Keqiang who have planned to host banquets in her honour. This overture is perhaps more than warranted for ceremonial requirements and could possibly be a gesture to warm upto Bangladesh.
Hasina is an astute politician with firm commitment towards her friendship towards India. She in all likelihood will keep her cards close to her chest which of course would mean maintaining a delicate balance between her ties with India and China.
As PR Chakravarty , former High Commisioner to Bangladesh had noted in one of his papers that earlier Bangladesh had navigated very carefully while playing the China card by not getting into the debt trap diplomacy promoted by China in India’s neighbourhood and Africa. This caution holds good even now when Hasina talks to China on a variety of issues of bilateral and regional concerns .
In this light , the hawks in India have started watching rather closely if Bangladesh is really trying to warm up to China. Either way, it would appear imperative if a fresh appraisal on Sino -BD ties is undertaken after Hasina wraps up her China tour on July 6.