Speakers at a conference on Sunday emphasised negotiation with China to garner more opportunities in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that will be the main platform for Beijing’s economic ties with other countries.
The view found support at an international conference on BRI organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) at a hotel in the capital.
They also mentioned Bangladesh is strategically located in a sub-region that includes two economic powerhouse of the 21st century- China and India.
The country is also a gateway to the Maritime Silk Route that passes through the Bay of Bengal. So it has a unique opportunity to emerge in the region as an important economic hub . In realising this ambition, the BRI could serve as an important opportunity for Bangladesh.
CPD Chairman Prof Rehman Sobhan said BRI is very important for Bangladesh.
“China is investing in many sectors in Bangladesh. Many will invest here in future as well. So we need to negotiate more about BRI opportunities. Mapping is also needed in the invested areas here,” he said.
He further said that the BRI is a necessary global initiative to construct a new international order based on enhancing development and ending poverty across the global South within the framework of a more equitable world order.
“We have to think about bilateral issue so that it’s not damaged following BRI projects,” he also hinted.
Industries Minister Nurul Majid Humayun said there is a good relationship between Bangladesh and China. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also visited the country this year.
“BRI is very important for South Asian countries,” he said, adding that economic ties with China will be enhanced through BRI.
Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque said BRI is very significant for the country’s infrastructure development and trade.
“We’re in key position of the belt. We have to negotiate about its opportunities,” he said.
The conference kicked off with Dr Fahmida Khatun, executive director of CPD, delivering the keynote paper on ‘Belt and Road Initiative: What are Bangladesh’s interests?’
She said that the largest proportion of BRI projects in Bangladesh is in the energy and transport sectors.
Dr Fahmida also informed that the external debt of Bangladesh fell from 20 percent of GDP in 2007 to 15 percent in 2015, but rose again to 17 percent in 2018. The absolute amount of outstanding external debt has also increased from $ 19.36 billion in 2007 to $33.5 billion in 2018.
“So debts should be managed well and debt sustainability issue should be closely monitored in order to avoid any possible debt traps,” she also said.
Former caretaker government advisor Syed Manzur Elahi presided over the opening session, CPD Distinguished Fellow Prof Mustafizur Rahman the second on economic aspects and another CPD Distinguished Fellow Debapriya Bhattacharya moderated the last session on political aspects of BRI.
Professor Dr Sachin Chaturvedi, director general of Institute for Bangladesh System for developing Countries, New Delhi, Prof Cheng Min, Institute for Bangladesh Studies, Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences Kunming, Mahbub Uz Zaman, Bangladesh Ambassador-designate to China, Dr Puspa Sharma, deputy executive of South Asia Watch on Trade Economics and Environments (SAWTEE) of Nepal, Ambassador Tariq A Karim, consultant of South Asia Regional Integration of the World Bank, and ANM Muniruzzaman, president of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS), were some of the experts who took part in the deliberations.