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India-Bangladesh relations ‘organic’, says PM Sheikh Hasina in China

PTI, Jul 4, 2019, 11:21 AM IST

Beijing/Dhaka: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, now on a visit to China, has described Dhaka’s ties with India and engagements with New Delhi as “organic”, saying it was “beyond a few billions of dollars of trade”.

Hasina, who addressed the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in the northern Chinese port city of Dalian on Tuesday, said she always believed that despite differences in size and capacity compared to India, Bangladesh can only secure its peace and security through sustainable development and connectivity.

“It is just organic. We have shed blood together for our (Bangladesh’s) independence,” Hasina said on Bangladesh-India relations. It was also “beyond a few billions of dollars of trade,” she said.

On the other hand, Bangladesh’s relationship with China was good as well as “China is our partner in mega projects and economic advancements,” Hasina was quoted as saying by the official Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS). “Our ties with Japan are historic, not just as the largest ODA partner,” she said adding, “Russia, another partner who stood by us during our liberation war, is now helping us in our energy security area”.

Asked how she maintains friendship with both India and China at the WEF meeting, Hasina said her government has tried to be balanced and objective in its foreign relations.

“In the past 10 years of our government, I have tried to position Bangladesh in a balanced and objective manner with all our friends globally to optimise our economic and development aspirations,” she said in response to the question. She added that her government always made it clear to all that Bangladesh does not harbour any military ambition as “it is against our values and ethos”.

Hasina, who has reached Beijing for official talks with the Chinese leadership, said that when she first assumed office as the premier in 1996, her government resolved a most challenging issue of sharing Ganges river water with India.

“We amicably delimited our maritime boundary with Myanmar and India. And now, Bangladesh and India are joining hands to uniquely develop our trans-boundary river navigation,” she told the WEF meeting. “We are for a rule-based system. Yes, geo-politics will always be a part of life. But we have to carefully appreciate and balance issues (as) we cannot trade off long-term interests for short-term gains,” she said.

Hasina pointed out that a cooperative yet competitive environment among all countries could be the “insurance of their shared prosperity”. Her address was followed by a question-answer session, when replying to a query about China’s growing forays in Bangladesh and implementing several mega projects in the country. She said Bangladesh was not worried about the “debt trap” as the mega deals with China were appropriately negotiated.

“Many people talk about the ‘debt trap’. I have a simple answer. As long as these mega projects are in our people’s interest, has the right pay off and negotiated rightly, we must not be worried,” she said as many in Bangladesh are concerned after Sri Lanka’s ratio of foreign debt to GDP rose significantly as the island nation implemented several Chinese infrastructure projects.

China is involved in some Bangladesh’s mega infrastructure projects while “our external debt is around 14.3 per cent of GDP (which) clearly is a sign of a healthy economy,” she was quoted as saying by the BSS.

“During the past term of my government (2014-18), we engaged and deepened our ties with India-China-Japan-US-Europe-Russia seamlessly,” Hasina said. “As a fast-growing economy, Bangladesh needs each of our friends for diverse purposes not certainly at the expenses of another,” she added.

“Each of our friends has distinct competence and interest as well. As long as our relationships are based on mutual trust and respect, we all gain for our peoples,” she said. Hasina predicted that in 10 years from now, Bangladesh is likely to become 25th largest economy globally and whatever gaps or limitations that we have, we are ready to correct those. So, we are for ‘open regionalism'”.

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