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‘China pitches for closer ties with Bangladesh’

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    13th Oct, 2020

Xi Jinping's recent call for China and Bangladesh to jointly promote the multi-billion Belt and Road Initiative has only served to heighten India's concerns about the initiative.

Context

Xi Jinping's recent call for China and Bangladesh to jointly promote the multi-billion Belt and Road Initiative has only served to heighten India's concerns about the initiative.

About

What is BRI?

  • The BRI seeks to build rail, maritime and road links from Asia to Europe and Africa in a revival of ancient Silk Road trading routes.
  • It is among Xi Jinping's top priority initiatives and aims firm up China’s global influence.
  • Besides Pakistan, where China initiated over USD 60 billion as part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), China has stepped up its huge infrastructure investments in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, sparking rising concerns about its growing influence in India's immediate neighbourhood.

Why India should be worried?

  • With India's ties with its neighbours — even including Nepal — having been strained in the recent past, the prospect of Dhaka drawing closer to China is a worrying one.
  • Bangladesh became a part of the Belt and Road Initiativein 2016 and has seen its ties with Beijing grow exponentially in recent years.
  • These are developments that India would be tracking closely for their ramifications in the neighbourhood.

Assessing the strategies

  • Although Bangladesh has broadly had warm relations with India, New Delhi has good reason to view the involvement of Dhaka in the BRI with concern.
  • As of now, none of the projects that China is executing in Bangladesh have strategic implications.
  • However, India would need to closely track present as well as future projects under the BRI in Bangladesh in order to secure its strategic interests.
  • Delay in bilateral negotiations between India and Bangladesh also presents the danger of alienating the latter country.
  • Among the issues which have seen such a delay is the water-sharing deal on the Teesta river. The Bangladesh government is now considering a proposal from China on the management and restoration of the Teesta river.
  • The Quad — which consists of India, Japan, Australia and the US — also presents an opportunity to counter China's rising influence through BRI.
  • As China forges closer ties with Bangladesh through the BRI, India needs to work both on maintaining good ties with Dhaka and also countering the influence of the initiative through strategic alliances.

India's concerns on BRI

  • The BRI has been a major bone of contention between India and China as one portion of the corridor passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
  • India has consistently been critical of the BRI and has refused to join it. In 2018, India was the only country in the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation grouping which opposed the initiative.

Which countries are not in favour of the project?

  • The initiative has, however, attracted allegations, especially from the US, of debt-diplomacy after Sri Lanka handed over its Hambantota Port to a state-run Chinese firm in 2017 for a 99 years' lease in a debt swap amounting to $1.2 billion.
  • Malaysia has also deferred several projects under the BRI, citing cost revaluation.
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