It was truly a wonderful opportunity this past week, to meet with some prospective future leadership for the next generation of the Chinese Communist Party, as a delegation of the party's central committee-International Department visited Bangladesh, under the bright and able leadership of Vice Minister Sun Haiyan. At the invitation of the Awami League, in the wake of their re-election for an unprecedented fourth consecutive term to govern Bangladesh, the delegation spent four days in the country, arriving here from another Saarc country - the Maldives. As many will know, the CPC's International Department, formerly the Intl Liaison Dept, is responsible for maintaining ties with political parties of other countries.

In keeping with the CPC's high standards and ideological integrity, Sun Haiyan impressed everyone she met with her intelligence and engaging nature. We know she held fruitful meetings with the Speaker of Parliament, as well as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In her meeting with the latter, Sun divulged her great insight into the development of Bangladesh, having visited the country on several occasions starting in 1991. This has allowed her to truly gauge the evolution of the country's economy and society through all the phases it has undergone.

At the start of this article, I referenced "the future leadership" of the CPC. Partly this was due to the fact that upon meeting her, one gets a real sense of her sense of duty and also what is a natural drive for leadership, that should logically take her far in the CCP, and thus the top echelons of China's government.

A second reason is that till about six months ago, until July 2023, Sun was the Chinese Ambassador to Singapore, which happens to be a country I love spending time in. And I happen to know about her time as ambassador, which was just over a year, being fondly recalled among Singaporean society in general, and the intelligentsia in particular. In fact, when she was recalled to take up her present post, that too was greeted with a sense of regret, similar to a relationship being cut short.

But even in those 14 months, it was worth noting how she managed to charm her hosts, not only during her public engagements, but also with her lucidly articles in the Singaporean press, always presenting her country in a beautiful and positive vein.

Sun was vocal about her positions on China's policies. We can refer to two pieces she wrote in Zaobao's English language online magazine with a China focus, ThinkChina. One was a response to an article by Lee Huay Leng, the editor-in-chief of SPH Chinese Media Group, a piece about China's Covid management and how it may have potentially overlooked individuals' experiences.

In her reply, Sun pointed out reasons for the necessary but difficult decisions made by the Chinese government during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the complex realities of policymaking, in particular when it comes to taking decisions.

The second piece was published in March 2023, speaking about how Singapore punches above its weight in a tumultuous world, with its well-founded positions on issues like the Taiwan Strait or the War in Ukraine.

The patriot in her couldn't help but hit back at the then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, during the tensions caused by her visit to Taiwan, calling it an "unprovoked challenge" to China's sovereignty. Yet at the same time, Sun was known to have cultivated a very warm relationship with her concurrent US ambassador to the City State, Jonathan Kaplan.

Quoting Zaobao, it was even reported in the Singapore press at the time of her departure that she will be the first deputy minister in the country's central foreign affairs apparatus born after 1970, and the first female deputy minister in the department. And with that, I rest my case that you may just have caught a glimpse into the future leadership of the CPC, and thus China itself, if you managed to bump into Ms Sun Haiyan. You can count yourself lucky!

The relationship with China is Bangladesh's most important bilateral friendship in the 21st Century. During Chinese premier Xi Jinping's seminal and landmark visit to Dhaka in 2016, the relationship was elevated to a strategic partnership.

Bangladesh was the first country in South Asia to sign up for the visionary One Belt, One Road initiative, under which our flagship development project, The Padma Multipurpose Bridge, was completed in 2022. China was one of Bangladesh's strongest partners in its journey to Digital Bangladesh, and its upcoming graduation from the club of Least Developed Countries. Going forward, we hope it remains an important partner providing support and assistance in the journey towards creating a 'Smart Bangladesh', and doing so working with counterparts of the calibre of Sun Haiyan!

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