Will Bangladesh be in a debt trap for being a part of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?
It was widely discussed by experts and economists at an event on the economics of BRI at a city hotel today.
Expressing concerns, some of the experts brought forth the example of failed Hambantota port of Sri Lanka and said a few countries may face a similar fate for being a part of the Chinese development strategy.
“Sri Lanka had to hand over the Hambantota port to China for not being able to pay back the Chinese credit because the country failed to reap enough returns from the port,” said Puspa Sharma, deputy executive, South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment.
About the China-Nepal rail project under the BRI, he said Kathmandu should seriously evaluate what it would gain from the initiative. “Are the transport corridors turning into economic corridors?” asked the Indian expert.
“We are not fully aware of the BRI. We know its shortcomings but not the benefits as yet, because there is a lack of information,” said Professor Nisha Taneja, project-in-charge, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations.
On the other hand, the benefits of the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor are clear, she added, suggesting all to carefully look into BRI projects and then come to a decision.
But, Sun Zigin, editor of South and Southeast Studies Journal, opposed the view of Taneja, saying the Hambantota port is a China-Sri Lanka cooperative project where there was no question of debt trap.
Supporting this view, Professor Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said there are 300 China funded projects currently being implemented, and Hambantota is an exceptional case.
He said the BRI could prove to be an important opportunity to help Bangladesh realise its ambitions.
“Bangladesh should be closely involved and actively engaged in the BRI activities to seize the emerging opportunities originating from the initiative,” Mustafiz pointed out.
The discussion was a part of an international conference on the Belt and Road Initiative: Positioning Bangladesh within Comparative Perspective organised by the CPD.
At the programme, former state minister for foreign affairs Abul Hasan Chowdhury, former ambassador Tariq A Karim and Dhaka University Professor Lailufar Yasmin also took part.
They suggested that Bangladesh should be careful about selecting BRI projects so that they do not turn into a burden on the country.