The consolidation and enhancement of China-Bangladesh friendship and cooperation serve the fundamental interests of both countries, meet common aspirations of their people and are conducive to peace and development in the region and the world.
This is why both nations strategically decided to establish a "Closer Comprehensive Partnership of Cooperation" based on principles of friendship, equality and mutual benefit since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1976, five years after Bangladesh's independence.
Both nations exchange high-level visits and contacts and are intensifying exchanges between government agencies, parliaments, political parties, armed forces, and non-governmental groups.
They promote communication and cooperation at the local government level and enhance bilateral cooperation mechanisms, including diplomatic consultations, joint economic and trade committees and joint agriculture committees.
To bridge the massive trade gap between them, China has not only provided economic aid to Bangladesh but also signed the Asia Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) to remove tariff barriers from the commodities imported from Bangladesh.
Under the framework of the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), China removed tariff barriers on 84 types of commodities imported from Bangladesh, including jute and textiles (chief exports of Bangladesh).
China has offered to develop natural gas resources and nuclear power plants in Bangladesh to meet its growing energy requirements.
The landlocked Yunnan province of China has sought economic cooperation with Bangladesh to help gain access to the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh too has offered to set up a Special Economic Zone for China.
The Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation and a framework agreement on a concessional loan provided by China to Bangladesh are two significant treaties signed between the two nations.
Influence of 'Look East' policy
Bangladesh's 'Look East' policy is essentially designed to lessen its dependence on India and open up new avenues of cooperation with China and South-East Asia.
However, in the process of ensuring this, Bangladesh's dependence on China has gradually increased, thereby giving Beijing greater leverage in bilateral ties.
Connectivity is essential to enhance mutual cooperation. In this regard, China and Bangladesh have been negotiating and have decided to build a 900 km highway project to connect Chittagong and Kunming through Myanmar.
This highway would give Bangladesh entry to the Mekong sub-region which already includes China, accelerate trade and facilitate people-to-people contact. This would not only overcome the long sea passage, from the east coast of China through Singapore (for trans-shipment) to Bangladesh, but would also lower transport costs and add to the economy of Yunnan province.
This also fits well with their joint initiative of improving Chittagong port infrastructure for both merchant vessels and the navies of both countries.
The Bangladesh Prime Minister has adopted a diplomatic outlook in line with the guiding principle of the country's Constitution, "Friendship towards all, malice toward none." However, in trying to ensure this, Bangladesh's dependence on China has increased.
Both nations have pledged to cooperate more closely, ensuring long term friendship, equality and mutual benefit to sustain their "time tested all-weather friendship".
Sino-Bangladesh relations are not only a matter of closer, comprehensive cooperation but also a dynamic process that has metamorphosed from an economic partnership into the realm of strategic partnership.
BCIM and BRI
Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Forum for regional cooperation (BCIM) is a sub-regional entity of Asian nations aiming for greater integration of trade and investment among them.
From the early 1980s, the Bangladesh Army has been equipped with Chinese tanks, its navy has Chinese frigates and missile boats and the Bangladesh Air Force flies Chinese fighter jets.
In 2002, China and Bangladesh signed a "Defence Cooperation Agreement".
Through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China plans to engage with the global economy by investing in the physical infrastructure. To rebuild the land network connecting China to Europe via Central Asia ("One Belt") and the maritime route from China to Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Africa ("One Road"), the BRI has been in place.
So far, 136 countries and 30 international organisations have signed 194 cooperation documents with China to take the "Belt and Road" cooperation forward for opening up a new paradigm in collective development efforts. Connectivity through the BCIM economic corridor has the potential to benefit South Asian countries.
Rohingya crisis and geopolitical interest of China
Unsurprisingly, China has geopolitical interests in Myanmar. Myanmar allows China access to the Indian Ocean.
For example, China is funding Kyauk Phyu port, a base of an oil-gas pipeline and the road link from the Bay of Bengal, through Myanmar to the Yunnan province of China, shortening supply routes from the Middle East.
The port has opened up a trading estate for developing a special economic zone in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. China's ambitious BRI is thus profoundly reliant on good relations with Myanmar.
Another factor is that China has been worried by Myanmar's recent foreign policy outlook towards the West. Recent condemnation of Myanmar by the West over its treatment of the Rohingyas has given Beijing a chance to restore close binds with the country.
Beijing has along these lines been a vocal ally of the Myanmar government regionally and globally. China applied its veto power when the United Nations Security Council wanted to take a joint statement condemning the military's actions in Myanmar.
Moreover, the Chinese government described the military takeover and detention of Suu Kyi as a major cabinet reshuffle.
'India factor' and Bangladesh viewpoint
Involving India into the Bangladesh-China bilateral relations is not realistic and rather, Bangladesh should have its own strategy based on foreign policy to deal with India, China, the US and other great powers separately.
Amid India-China tensions in eastern Ladakh in June 2020 as well as growing tensions with Nepal, India has found itself isolated from its neighbours in part because of the increasing Chinese influence in the region.
Having both commercial and political stakes in Bangladesh, New Delhi expected Dhaka's support in the ongoing conflict with China. But to New Delhi's surprise, Dhaka did not pick a side.
Instead, it took a neutral stance and called for the peaceful settlement of contentious issues. Such a neutral stand speaks about the mature leadership Bangladesh has demonstrated and conveys a clear message to shape issues and capitalise on national interests.
Looking for win-win bilateral relations
The geographic area encompassing South Asia and its contiguous maritime zones are of growing strategic importance to China, reflected by its web of partnerships and coalitions with regional states.
The dynamics of these relationships appear on the surface to be based on interdependence but are actually driven by long-term political, economic and strategic interests.
Bangladesh is an important player among South Asian states for China's political-military realism. Such a strategic partnership with Dhaka provides Beijing with an added leverage to check Indian forces. This is evident from the regular political exchanges and enhanced military cooperation between the two countries.
Clearly, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is now trying to capitalise on the geopolitical advantage that Bangladesh enjoys as a country that overlooks the strategically important sea lanes of the Indian Ocean linking China with the Persian Gulf, which have a role in securing energy supplies for Beijing.
Such an approach speaks of her vision to move ahead with an essentially 'win-win' situation by leaving behind China's hostile attitude during Bangladesh's Liberation War in 1971.
Last but not least, as Bangladesh and China have continued to consolidate their bilateral relations over the decade, China must come forward to join hands with the Bangladesh government for a swift repatriation of Rohingya refugees.
Dr Mohammad Tarikul Islam is an Associate Professor of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and SOAS (University of London).
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.