Bangladesh on Sunday sought cooperation from China to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar during a visit by Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅), who promised better trade ties, investment and support for infrastructure development in the South Asian nation.
China had used its influence in Myanmar to broker a November 2017 agreement to repatriate about 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled persecution in Myanmar in August that year. Despite attempts to send them back, the refugees refused, fearing danger in Myanmar, which was exacerbated by the military takeover last year.
Wang arrived in Dhaka on Saturday and met with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Minister of Foreign Affairs A.K. Abdul Momen. They discussed bilateral and global issues before Wang’s departure on Sunday, Bangladeshi State Minister of Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said.
Bangladesh has strong relations with China, which is a major trade partner mostly for raw materials, but maintaining close ties with Beijing is challenging for the South Asian nation, which also balances diplomatic and trade relationship with India and the US, China’s main rivals.
More than 500 Chinese companies are active in Bangladesh. China is involved in the country’s major infrastructure projects such as seaports, a river tunnel and highways, and helped build its largest bridge over the River Padma at a cost of US$3.6 billion.
Amid recent tensions between China and Taiwan, Bangladesh issued a statement reiterating its support for Beijing’s “one China” policy. After winning elections in 2008, Hasina’s administration closed the Taiwanese business representative office in Dhaka in response to a request from China, and since then China has increased its engagement in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s garment industry, which brings in more than 80 percent of foreign currency from exports, is heavily dependent on China for raw materials.
On Sunday, Wang told Hasina during a courtesy call that his country considers Bangladesh as a “strategic development partner” and would continue to support it, Hasina’s spokesman Ihsanul Karim said.
The United News of Bangladesh agency reported that Wang also promised to stand beside Bangladesh “on all issues at international forums.”
The state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha news agency reported that Hasina raised the global tensions caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions against Moscow, saying that “people [across the world] are enduring difficult times. South Asia, Southeast Asia and China can work together for economic progress.”
Alam said that Wang agreed to expand trade benefits by raising duty-free access to 98 percent from the current 97 percent of Bangladeshi products and services to Chinese markets.
“It’s a good news for Bangladesh as we have a thriving economy based on exports,” Alam said. “Now they have offered another 1 percent from Sept. 1,” he said, adding that the new tax advantage is likely to include garments, woven and other products that had previously faced some barriers.
He said Bangladesh would get a list from China soon about the products and services that would have duty-free access.
Alam said that Wang explained to the Bangladeshi foreign minister that “some countries misunderstand and misinterpret” China. He did not elaborate.
Momen told reporters separately that the Chinese minister mentioned that a section of Taiwanese was being provoked against the sovereignty of China.
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