China Boosts Regional Ties With Milestone Xi Visit to Dhaka

  • Loans worth $20 billion to fund seaport, power plants, roads
  • Separate joint venture agreements signed for $13.6 billion

Chinese President Xi Jinping is greeted by Bangladesh's President Abdul Hamid after arriving in Dhaka on Oct. 14, 2016.

Photographer: AFP via Getty Images

China has signed off on more than $33 billion in government and private-sector investment to fund a series of large-scale infrastructure projects in Bangladesh during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Dhaka on Friday.

Xi’s visit, the first by a Chinese head of state to Bangladesh in 30 years, is part of the Asian economic giant’s ambition to advance its “One Belt, One Road” initiative -- a grand plan devoted to reviving the ancient Silk Road trading route from Asia to Europe by boosting economic ties and investing in transport hubs. He last visited Bangladesh in 2010 as vice-president.

The 26 deals -- mostly in infrastructure projects -- involve about $20 billion in low-cost loans to be provided by China under a government-to-government arrangement, Bangladesh’s State Minister for Finance MA Mannan said by phone.

Separately, Chinese and Bangladeshi companies signed 13 joint-venture agreements involving $13.6 billion to boost bilateral trade, Abdul Matlub Ahmad, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry said at a media briefing in Dhaka. Chinese companies will invest in power, railways, sport and an economic zone, he said.

Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali described the visit as an “historic new journey.”

“Bangladesh is important to China in extending its Belt and Road projects to South Asia and balancing its relations with India,” said Sun Shihai, president of the official Chinese Association for South Asian Studies in Beijing. “A major deal like this could certainly bring the relations into a new level.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a $2 billion fresh line of credit for Bangladesh during his visit to Dhaka last year, but the China deal clearly eclipses that amount.

However, as the loans do not cover military cooperation -- an integral part of the ties between Bangladesh and India -- relations between the two neighbors would be unaffected by China’s loan package, Ahsan H. Mansur, executive director of Dhaka-based Policy Research Institute, said by phone. 

“China has done it in Africa and Myanmar. It has done in Sri Lanka. It’s doing it in Pakistan. Now it’s in Bangladesh. From China’s point of view, it’s a good return on investment,” Mansur said.

Xi arrived in Bangladesh from Cambodia, where he was on an official visit, before going to India to attend the BRICS Summit to be held in Goa on Oct. 15-16.

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