June 3, 2023

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — 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 countries. of South Asia.

China had 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 efforts to send them back, the refugees have refused, fearing danger in Myanmar, which has been exacerbated by the army’s takeover last year.

Yi arrived in Dhaka on Saturday night and met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen. They discussed bilateral and global issues before his departure on Sunday morning, said Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s junior 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 both India and the United States, China’s main rivals.

More than 500 Chinese companies operate in Bangladesh. China is involved in all the country’s major infrastructure projects, including seaports, river tunnels and highways, and helped build the longest 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 2008 election, Hasina’s administration closed the Taiwanese business representative office in Dhaka in response to a Chinese request, and China has since increased its engagement in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s garment industry, which brings in more than 80% of foreign exchange from exports, is heavily dependent on China for raw materials.

On Sunday, Yi told Hasina during a phone call that his country views Bangladesh as a “strategic development partner” and will continue to support it, said Ihsanul Karim, the presidency’s press secretary.

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

Alam said Yi agreed to extend trade benefits by increasing duty-free access of Bangladeshi goods and services to Chinese markets to 99 percent.

“It is good news for Bangladesh as we have a thriving export-based economy,” Alam said. “We already have duty-free access for 98% of items exported to China. The remaining 2% … was important and sensitive. Now they have offered another 1% from September 1,” he said, adding that the new tax advantage is likely to include garments, textiles and other products that previously faced some barriers.

He said that Bangladesh will soon receive a list from China regarding the goods and services that will be given duty-free access.

Alam said Yi explained to Bangladesh’s foreign minister that “some countries misunderstand and misinterpret” China. He did not provide further details.

The junior minister said China was committed to working continuously to resolve the Rohingya crisis and quoted Yi as saying that internal challenges in Myanmar are not only a concern for Bangladesh but also for other countries.

“Our Foreign Minister strongly reiterated that Chinese cooperation is required. China has moved to resolve the Rohingya issue and we need the situation to end,” Alam said.

On Sunday, Bangladesh and China signed or renewed four agreements and memorandums 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 very important for both countries.

“Bangladesh needs support from China to solve the Rohingya crisis. This visit will help strengthen bilateral relations,” Ahmad told The Associated Press.

“For us, China is very important. We also need to 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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