Source : The Times of India
|China built Padma Bridge on the river Padma in Bangladesh|
New Delhi: Even as Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina prepares to inaugurate later this month the landmark China-built Padma bridge, which promises to transform the country’s economy, Dhaka is treading cautiously on economic assistance from China.
The Hasina government, according to an official source in Dhaka, has nixed a proposal for a high-speed Dhaka-Chittagong railway line that China was aggressively pursuing. According to Indian authorities, Bangladesh has been mindful of India’s security interests while allowing Chinese companies to implement projects in the country. Bangladesh is one of the few Muslim-majority countries that have not officially lodged a protest with India over the remarks by BJP spokespersons against the Prophet.
Bangladesh information minister Hasan Mahmud told a visiting Indian media delegation on Saturday Dhaka’s thankful to the Indian government for the action against those who insulted the Prophet. Significantly, while a Chinese firm has built the multi-purpose bridge on the Padma river, Bangladesh is proud of the fact that its government financed the construction without any loan assistance from China or any other country or entity.
The 6-km bridge built on the choppy waters of the Padma is expected to provide a major fillip to trade and commerce in Bangladesh’s southwest region and, according to official estimates, increase the country’s GDP by 1.2 percent. While India didn’t have any role in the construction of the bridge, for Indian authorities it’s still a source of satisfaction that it will bring Bangladesh closer to India by reducing the rail travel time from Dhaka to Kolkata by almost 3 hours.
“There’s no impact so far on India’s security from China’s involvement in economic projects. As for loans, Bangladesh has a great debt-to-GDP ratio and has much more exposure to loans from ADB or even Japan,” said a source. To many, Bangladesh is a lot more organised about what it wants than perhaps Sri Lanka. This possibly could be the reason why, as an official source said, Dhaka believes investment in a $10-billion high-speed train for linking the capital to Bangladesh’s second-largest city might be unnecessary for now.
The decision to not go ahead with the proposal, after carrying out a feasibility study, is still significant given that China had been pushing Dhaka to sign an MoU to carry forward the proposal. Chinese ambassador Li Jiming was last week reported to have written to the Bangladesh government last week for an early signing of the MoU.
Bangladesh also saw street protests last week in Dhaka and other places against the remarks by BJP spokespersons targeting the Prophet. When asked why Bangladesh had not officially condemned the comments, Mahmud said Bangladesh condemns such insults to the Prophet “wherever it happens” and that Bangladesh “congratulates” India for taking legal action.
According to diplomatic sources, Hasina is also expected to visit India in a few months. The visit will probably be the last high-level contact between the 2 governments before the elections in Bangladesh next year. How fair or credible the elections will be is debatable though as the main opposition party, jailed Khaleda Zia’s BNP, insists it will participate only if the elections are held under a caretaker government.
A top Bangladesh government source though said there’s no question of accepting that demand. While India wouldn’t mind of course Hasina’s return to power, India believes it’s in its own and Bangladesh’s interest that the elections are participatory, free and fair and not devoid of international legitimacy.