Chinese Ambassador Li Jiming opens up after a visit to the project area
Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming has said his country is serious about implementing the Teesta River Comprehensive Management Project, noting that it should be taken very positively for the benefits of the people of Bangladesh.
He said China considers the project to be significant after Bangladesh formally proposed it but also has a sense of reluctance due to the sensitivities it contains.
"But I would have to be frank that the Chinese side is a bit reluctant to this project. The reason of course is that there are some sensitivities - that we sensed and we observed," the Chinese ambassador said, no doubt referring to the concerns of other geopolitical powers in the region, at a seminar on "National Image of China in Bangladesh," organized by the Centre for Genocide Studies (CGS) at a Dhaka hotel on October 13, 2022.
According to the proposed Teesta project, 115 km of the Teesta River flowing in Bangladesh would be extensively excavated. The depth in the middle of the river would be increased to 10 m and the width of the river would be greatly reduced. At the same time, opportunities for cultivation will be created by recovering land through river management.
An irrigation system would be developed in the dry season on the cultivable lands on both banks of the river, by constructing several barrages-cum-roads at suitable places as well as by conserving the huge surplus water flowing in the river during monsoon. In addition, extensive industrialisation and urbanisation facilities will be built along the roads on both banks of the river.
The Ambassador said they were asked by the Bangladesh government officially 'to do something' about one year ago.
After an assessment done by the Embassy, he said, they decided that this is a very important project and they should report back to Beijing.
"Now Teesta River Comprehensive Management Project is under serious assessment by the government agencies in Beijing," said the envoy.
Ambassador Jiming said he is personally worried thinking whether the Bangladesh government will change its position later on - with or without outside pressure.
"I am not sure. If we decided to do so, if someone came out and says - well this again another case of Chinese debt trap - there are some particular geopolitical sensitivities that say we should not do it," he mentioned, adding the possibility that the Bangladesh government then says "sorry China - we cannot just go on. That will put me in a very awkward position."
He said his visit to the project area last week was part of visiting Chinese projects in different parts of the country. He got extremely positive feedback from the local people and the local government.
"It gives me great confidence to say more to my colleagues in Beijing to build their confidence," said the Ambassador.
On October 9, Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming visited Rangpur division and talked to local people at the Teesta Barrage.
On October 10, the ambassador visited the bridge project under construction by CSCEC over Teesta River in Gaibandha district of Rangpur division.
"Fortunately, all the messages that I got from that trip are extremely positive," he said.
The ambassador said he will send a message to his colleagues in Beijing that people were eager about the project - something that will help build confidence among the Chinese officials.
In July 2020, the Ministry of Water Resources sought a $983 million loan from China to implement the project, in a letter to Bangladesh's Economic Relations Division. The Bangladesh government would be bearing 15% of the total project cost (about $130 million).
The project involves dredging the Teesta river for navigability, building strong embankment, townships, industries on the two sides of the river, water reservoir and irrigation.
Responding to a question on possible engagement of China in a Teesta-related project, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen recently said they have not received any such proposal officially yet.
He, however, mentioned a French experts group's visit (1988-89) who worked on a comprehensive study (including Teesta) on how floods can be controlled in Bangladesh.
The project could not be taken at that time due to lack of required funds but recently, he said, they have heard about funding for the old project.
Momen encouraged reporters to ask the relevant ministry, saying they might know at what stage it is now.
On the issues of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Jiming said there have been narratives and news "cooked up by western countries".
He said China is not suppressing any certain minority, namely the Uyghur, which is one of 56 ethnic groups in China.
"Chinese authorities imprisoned the separatists and terrorists as per the national law," Jiming said.
Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming on Thursday said the rapid and sound development of China and his country's relations with Bangladesh have played a positive role in shaping Bangladeshi friends' understanding about the Asian giant.
"However, I should admit that there are still some misunderstandings on China-related issues, originating from cultural difference, cognitive bias or fake news," he said.
The envoy said these will inevitably undermine the friendly base of China-Bangladesh relations and further hinder the mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries.
The ambassador said there is no so-called "Chinese debt trap" and the government of Bangladesh knows this well.
According to the data published by the Ministry of Finance of Bangladesh, the country's debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio is 38 per cent, as of June 2021, and external debt accounts for 37 per cent of the overall debt portfolio, said the envoy.
"Among others, debt to China accounts for only 7 percent of Bangladesh's external debt, as much as 2.58 per cent of the overall debt and 0.98 percent of GDP," he said.
Apparently, the envoy said, the data says by itself that Bangladesh's debt to China falls way below any fiscal threshold of a "debt trap".
In the meantime, China is not even the largest creditor of Bangladesh.
The envoy referred to Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen who said many times that "there's no scope that Bangladesh will fall into the Chinese debt trap. We cut our coats according to our clothes."
The envoy said what Professor Imtiaz briefed just now has vividly and powerfully shown that China and Bangladesh enjoy cordial and close bilateral relations, the relations strongly based on the friendship and bond between the two peoples.
"Particularly, I feel gratified and encouraged by the immensely positive responses and realizing the joint efforts by our two countries and two peoples have been proved to be effective," he said.
On the Rohingya issue, Ambassador Li said the key to the Rohingya issue is building confidence between the stakeholders, not the unilateral efforts from a certain country.
He said China has been working on Bangladesh and Myanmar to help to resolve the Rohingya issue through talks because both Bangladesh and Myanmar are China's friendly neighbors.
"Though the present domestic condition of Myanmar is still facing uncertainty, the communication between the two sides is not interrupted under the mediation of China and actually, the incumbent authority of Myanmar is showing a positive attitude to this issue," said the Chinese envoy.
Thus, he said, the Chinese side hopes Bangladesh and Myanmar could work in the same direction so that the repatriation could start at an early date.
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