DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) – Bangladesh on Sunday sought cooperation from China to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar during a visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who promised to improve trade and investment ties and support infrastructure development in South Asian countries.
China used its influence in Myanmar to broker a November 2017 agreement to repatriate some 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled persecution in Myanmar in August of that year. Despite attempts to bring them back, refugees have refused out of fear of danger in Myanmar, which was exacerbated by the military’s seizure of power last year.
Yi arrived in Dhaka on Saturday evening and met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister Abdul Momen. Shahryar Alam, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, said they discussed bilateral and global issues before his departure on Sunday morning.
Bangladesh has strong relations with China, which is a major trading partner for raw materials mostly. But maintaining close ties with Beijing is a challenge for Bangladesh, which also balances diplomatic and trade relations with both India and the United States, China’s main rivals.
More than 500 Chinese companies are active in Bangladesh. China is involved in all major infrastructure projects in the country such as seaports, a river tunnel and highways, and has helped build its largest bridge over the Padma River at a cost of $3.6 billion.
Amid the recent tensions between China and Taiwan, Bangladesh issued a statement emphasizing its support for the “one China” policy. After winning the 2008 elections, 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 involvement in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s garment industry, which brings in more than 80% of foreign exchange from exports, is highly dependent on China for its raw materials.
On Sunday, Ehsan Karim, presidential press secretary, said Ye told Hasina during a courtesy call that his country considered Bangladesh a “strategic development partner” and would continue to support it.
According to Bangladesh’s United News Agency, Ye also promised to stand by Bangladesh “in all issues in international forums”.
Alam said Yi agreed to expand trade advantages by increasing duty-free access to 99% of Bangladeshi products and services to Chinese markets.
“It is good news for Bangladesh as we have a thriving export-dependent economy,” Alam said. “We already have duty-free access for 98% of the items exported to China. The remaining 2% … was important and sensitive. Now they offered another 1% from September 1, adding that the new tax benefit is likely to include clothing, textiles, etc. One of the products that previously faced some obstacles.
He said Bangladesh will get a list from China soon on which products and services will get duty-free entry.
Alam said Yi made it clear to the Bangladeshi foreign minister that “some countries misunderstand and misinterpret China.” He did not go into details.
The junior minister said that China pledged to work continuously to solve the Rohingya crisis and Ye was quoted as saying that internal challenges in Myanmar not only trouble Bangladesh but other countries as well.
Our foreign minister firmly emphasized that China’s cooperation is required. Allam said China has made progress in resolving the Rohingya issue and we need to end the situation.
Bangladesh and China on Sunday signed or renewed four agreements and memoranda of understanding on disaster management, infrastructure and cultural exchanges.
Analyst Munshi Faiz Ahmed, who served as Bangladeshi ambassador to Beijing, said Yi’s visit was very important to both countries.
To solve the Rohingya crisis, Bangladesh needs support from China. Ahmed told The Associated Press that this visit will help in strengthening bilateral relations.
For us, China is very important. We also need to maintain good relations with both India and the United States because they are also very important partners in the development of Bangladesh. We have nothing to fear because of Bangladesh’s close relations with China.”