Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is back home after what was clearly a productive visit to China. Her talks with the Chinese leadership, especially in light of the growing cooperation between the two nations in various areas of common interest, are a testimony to a couple of important realities. In the first place, the visit is a sign of the deep interest the Chinese leadership has been taking of late in expanding ties with Bangladesh. In the second place, it was a reaffirmation of Bangladesh’s expanding foreign policy objectives on a regional as well as global scale. It was also a sign of the fundamental principle of the country’s diplomacy being based on friendship for all and malice to none, as expounded by Bangabandhu in the period immediately after the liberation of the country, which the prime ministerial visit has reasserted.
It is to be noted that prior to her talks with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing, Sheikh Hasina took part in the summer World Economic Forum in Dalian. It was a significant opportunity for the Bangladesh leader to explain the economic objectives which Bangladesh plans to achieve in the coming years through both the working of its internal dynamics as also through widening cooperation with the outside world. In Beijing, the focus was certainly on bilateral ties, but one can be pretty certain that the Prime Minister was also able to put across her government’s views on the modalities along which Dhaka can and will be part of the Belt-and-Road Initiative the Chinese leadership has been trying to popularise across the globe. Obviously, Dhaka would be wary of any possibility of falling into the kind of debt trap which some other nations, notably Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Djibouti, have become mired in. It is a priority which remains uppermost in Bangladesh’s foreign policy objectives in the region, given especially the close traditional relations the country has consistently enjoyed with India and other countries in South Asia.
In the economic region, the Prime Minister’s visit will have added to the wider opportunities which exist for an expansion of trade between Bangladesh and China. Beijing has always been interested in a free trade deal with Dhaka, a proposition that can only be given the shape of reality if it opens the doors for a proper and productive entry of Bangladeshi goods into the Chinese market. In matters of defence, the Chinese remain an important factor for Bangladesh. But Sheikh Hasina is also acutely aware of Dhaka’s need to maintain a balanced diplomacy, with India being a key factor in the process.
Perhaps an important takeaway from the Prime Minister’s visit to China is Beijing’s assurance to Dhaka on exerting its influence on Myanmar regarding the return of the Rohingya refugees to Rakhine state. For Dhaka, the need now is to build on that assurance.