Bangladesh seeks help from China to repatriate Rohingya refugees

DACA, Bangladesh –

Bangladesh on Sunday sought China’s cooperation in repatriating Rohingya refugees to Myanmar during a visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who promised better trade ties, investment and support for infrastructure development in the South Asian nation.

China used its influence in Myanmar to broker a November 2017 deal to repatriate some 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled persecution in Myanmar in August of that year. Despite attempts to send them back, the refugees refused, fearing danger in Myanmar, which was exacerbated by last year’s military takeover.

Yi arrived in Dhaka on Saturday night and met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen. They discussed bilateral and global issues before their departure on Sunday morning, said Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s deputy foreign minister.

Bangladesh has strong relations with China, which is an important trading partner mainly for raw materials. But maintaining close ties with Beijing is a challenge for Bangladesh, which is also balancing diplomatic and trade relations with India and the United States, China’s main rivals.

More than 500 Chinese companies are active in Bangladesh. China is involved in all of the country’s major infrastructure projects, such as seaports, a river tunnel and highways, and helped build its largest bridge over the Padma River at a cost of $3.6 billion.

Amid recent tensions between China and Taiwan, Bangladesh issued a statement reiterating its support for the “one China” policy. After winning the elections in 2008, the Hasina 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 generates more than 80 percent of foreign exchange from exports, relies heavily on raw materials from China.

On Sunday, Yi told Hasina during a courtesy call that his country regards Bangladesh as a “strategic development partner” and would continue to support it, said Ihsanul Karim, presidential press secretary.

The United News of Bangladesh agency reported that Yi also promised to stand by Bangladesh “on all issues in international forums.”

Hasina raised global tensions caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions against Moscow, saying “people (all over the world) are going through hard times. South Asia, Southeast Asia and China can work together to economic progress”.

Alam said Yi had agreed to expand trade benefits by raising duty-free access for Bangladeshi goods and services to Chinese markets to 99 percent.

“This is good news for Bangladesh as we have a prosperous economy based on exports,” Alam said. “We already have duty-free access for 98 per cent of items exported to China. The remaining two per cent… has been important and sensitive. Now they have offered another one per cent since September 1,” he said, and He added that the new tax advantage is likely to include clothing, fabrics and other products that had previously faced some barriers.

He said that Bangladesh would soon receive a list from China on the products and services that would have duty-free access.

Alam said that Yi explained to the Bangladeshi foreign minister that “some countries misunderstand and misunderstand” China. He did not elaborate.

The junior minister said China is committed to continuously working to resolve the Rohingya crisis, quoting Yi as saying internal challenges in Myanmar are not only of concern to Bangladesh but also to other countries.

“Our foreign minister strongly reiterated that Chinese cooperation is needed. China has made progress in resolving the Rohingya issue and we need to bring the situation to an end,” Alam said.

On Sunday, Bangladesh and China signed or renewed four agreements and memoranda of understanding on disaster management, infrastructure and cultural exchanges.

Analyst Munshi Faiz Ahmad, who served as Bangladesh’s ambassador to Beijing, said Yi’s visit was highly significant for both countries.

“To resolve the Rohingya crisis, Bangladesh needs China’s support. This visit will help strengthen bilateral relations,” Ahmad told The Associated Press.

“For us, China is very important. We should also maintain good relations with both India and the United States, as they are also very important development partners of Bangladesh. There is nothing to fear because of Bangladesh’s close ties with China.” he said.

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