A friend in need is a friend indeed. At this crucial moment, if we take China's current situation into consideration, Bangladesh has again shown to the world that it never leaves friends during difficult times. Bangladesh truly sends out a message that this is not the time for any individual or any country to rejoice in China's hard times.

Prime Minister and President of Bangladesh Awami League Sheikh Hasina expressed deep shock at the loss of lives following the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan city and other places in China. In a message written to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Sheikh Hasina expressed her firm conviction that the government of China will be able to face and stop the aggravation of the situation with utmost capacity and control.

It demonstrates that the virus, not China, should be treated as the common enemy. Bangladesh assured that the people and the government of Bangladesh are with the friendly people and the government of China to address the crisis.

Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming has said right now many people are misled by a false impression that China has made a huge trouble for the world and therefore it is China to blame. He acknowledges that the epidemic started in the city of Wuhan in China, but for now, he says, there is no solid scientific evidence to show that the virus originated in China or it was created by the Chinese people accidentally or otherwise. Scientists in China and other countries are working round the clock to trace the source of the pathogen, and all possibilities are on the table.

Can We Afford Alternative to China?

China remains Bangladesh's largest trading partner. Over the years, China provided Bangladesh with stable sources of raw materials and various commodities of high quality and low price, giving important material support for Bangladesh's economic development. At this difficult period, China believes that they will remain Bangladesh's most reliable trading partner in the future, too.

There is no denying about the negative impact, if not for the long term, of coronavirus on Bangladesh. Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi has said the government will take necessary steps after assessing the possible impacts of coronavirus. The Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) will place a report on trade relations between Bangladesh and China within the next three months. The Bangladesh government will take the next step based on the report to be submitted by the apex trade body - FBCCI.

The number of Chinese enterprises in Bangladesh is huge. The scope of engineering projects is diversified, which have been affected by the epidemic to varying degrees. Bangladesh has stopped issuing visas on arrival to Chinese citizens, resulting in delay in the return or assignment of some of the design management and construction personnel to the projects, which will have a great negative impact on the projects' design and construction progress, according to the Chinese Embassy in Dhaka.

Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming has urged Bangladeshi businesses not to switch over its supply chain to any other countries as an alternative to China in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

"I strongly recommend that Bangladesh businesses shouldn't reconsider their supply chain to switch over to any other countries from China," he said. The Ambassador shared three reasons -- it is impossible, it will be costly and it is unnecessary considering the situation on the ground.

Acknowledging the impact of coronavirus to some extent, he said people are now getting back to work while businesses returning to normalcy.

China, as the second largest economy in the world, wishes to withstand the shock wave and retain its sound and positive momentum of long-term economic growth. They are confident that the Chinese economy will bounce back soon enough, and China-Bangladesh trade and economic relations will only emerge stronger and more dynamic afterwards.

"So my suggestion is that, right now it is too early for our Bangladeshi friends to reconsider their business with China. We will redouble our efforts of growing the economy after the virus is defeated," said Ambassador Jiming.

Friendship and Political Trust

This year marks the 45th anniversary of Bangladesh-China diplomatic ties, and Bangladesh is about to launch the grand celebration of "Mujib Borsho" marking the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. So, it is a big and very significant year for both the countries. There is an old Chinese saying which goes "only after enough adversities can blessings truly happen".

The virus, as the Chinese Ambassador says, no matter how raging it is, will not shake the strong pillar of political trust, mutual understanding and brotherly friendship between our two countries.

In addition to the letter of the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has written letters to Wang Yi, State Councilor and Foreign Minister of China, expressing his sympathy and support to China. On February 11, Bangladesh Ambassador to China Mahbub Uz Zaman sent a video message to support the Chinese people which instantly made headlines in China Daily, the top English newspaper in China.

On February 18, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen handed over some medical logistics to Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming as a goodwill gesture from Bangladesh to China. Ten lakh hand gloves, five lakh facemasks, 1.5 lakh caps, one lakh hand sanitizers, 50,000 shoe-covers and 8,000 gowns are among the provided medical logistics.

Meanwhile, the first batch of kits to detect coronavirus or COVID-19, donated by China, was supposed to arrive here on February 19. China is providing 500 sets of what it calls, the 'most advanced kits', to Bangladesh to identify coronavirus as a goodwill gesture and strong faith that Bangladesh has in China in winning the battle against COVID-19. It also demonstrates that even at its most difficult times, China never forgets to lend a helping hand to its friends.

"These are real-time fluorescent RT-PCR kits for detecting the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and are the first such donation to any country from China," said Yan Hualong, Deputy Chief of Mission and Minister (Counsellor) of Chinese Embassy adding that more such kits will be provided if any case is confirmed in Bangladesh.

More Willing to Return

Bangladesh brought back 312 of its nationals from China on February 1 and none of them is infec ted with the virus. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here, a total of 198 Bangladeshi students are willing to return home now from Hubei province, the epicentre of a new virus outbreak. Of them, 164 students are from Yichang, 10 from Shiyan, nine from Jingmen, 10 from Wuhan and five from Jinghou.

The government of Bangladesh is actively considering and exploring the option of chartering a special flight. Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming said some technical issues were obstructing the return of remaining registered Bangladeshis from Hubei province. "I think permission is not a problem [but], the problem is some technical difficulties," Ambassador Li Jiming told Dhaka Courier.

"I think Bangladesh government is very responsible and the government is taking care of Bangladeshis. Permission (take back the Bangladeshis) can be issued from the Chinese side. It won't be a problem," he said but pointed out that there was no carrier.

"Bangladesh Airlines refuse to travel to China to bring back the Bangladeshis because if they do so, they'll be banned by other countries. They'll have to stop their business," the Ambassador noted.

He said China is also trying to offer some other alternatives, for example, some commercial flights and so on.

Responding to another question, Ambassador Jiming cited some examples how people got infected outside China and said he would rather advise and consider not to let them come back because there is a risk for this country, not only for themselves (travellers) during the travel, to bring virus to this society.

The international community needs to act and should try their best to stop further spread of the virus and minimize the risk. Today, we badly need solidarity, not stigma. We need to defeat rumors but to depend on facts.

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