In My View
As China favours Bangladesh, Indian media cries foul
July 1, 2020 was an important date of Bangladesh-China relations. That was when economic cooperation---especially the trade relations between Bangladesh and China---reached a new height further cementing the bond of friendship between two already friendly countries.
On this date, not a riff took effect for 97 per cent of Bangladeshi exports to China as per a notification of the Tariff Commission of the Chinese State Council. Bangladesh already has duty-free access for 3,095 products to Chinese market under an Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement. The current arrangement will exempt an additional 5,161 Bangladeshi products of any tariff.
The Chinese government made this significant decision to boost Bangladesh's bilateral trade relations with China after Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Chinese President Xi Jinping had a discussion during the COVID-19 pandemic. During that discussion, the Chinese leader also promised Bangladesh prime minister that his country wouldsupport Bangladesh's economic development program.
Even though it was just a 25-minute phone conversation initiated by Chinese President Xi Jinping from Beijing, it did have a significant impact on the bilateral economic cooperation between the two countries. The meeting also served as a testimony to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's skills to successfully negotiate with a foreign leader and further improve Bangladesh's relations with other countries.
Apart from sending a Chinese team of experts to help Bangladesh fight COVID-19, the Chinese president promised Bangladesh prime minister that China would always stand with Bangladesh in its efforts for economic development as well as at various international forums. President Xi Jinping also promised that China would continuously work for further improving its "strategic partnership" with Bangladesh.
These are all very positive development for Bangladesh-China friendship as well as for the continued progress in the bilateral relations between the two countries. China is already an economic superpower and therefore it is in a position to offer tariff benefit or preferential treatment to many countries just as the United States has been doing it in different parts of the world for decade after decade.
But many Bangladeshis at home and abroad are shocked and also surprised by the mean-spirited reactions from a section of Indian press for the recent tariff benefit Bangladesh has received from China. While most Indian newspapers have been modest in their reactions to China's tariff offer to Bangladesh, a couple of media outlets---especially Anandabazar Patrika---have violated the basic etiquette and courtesy.
The Kolkata-based Bengali daily will hit century in just about a couple of years. That means Anandabazar Patrika has aged but unfortunately it hasn't grown up. Its reactions to China's tariff offer to Bangladesh can be compared only to that of an angry child. It didn't even hesitate to take itself down to a level where it simply looked so low and nasty. The newspaper called China's tariff offer to Bangladesh a "charity."
O, really? Then do you have any idea how long India itself enjoyed what you dubbed "charity" from the United States? India had been the largest beneficiary of a program that allowed some Indian goods to enter the US duty-free. Let's put it more clearly, Washington's Generalized System of Preferences or GSP program for India, which has been recently cancelled by Donald Trump, allowed $5.6 billion worth of Indian exports to enter the US duty-free.
Indian media reactions to China's tariff offer to Bangladesh were so objectionable that Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen had to speak out expressing his annoyance with them. Momen said the attempts by a section of Indian media outlets to portray Bangladesh in such a demeaning fashion were "not welcome." He said Dhaka did take a serious note of the negative Indian media reports about Bangladesh.
Behind the heartburning of these Indian media outlets against China's tariff benefit for Bangladesh lay the recent India-China skirmishes in Ladakh. China's tariff offer to Bangladesh at this particular time was perceived by this section of Indian press as an attempt by its enemy (China) to win over its friend (Bangladesh). But what they totally forgot here was the natural self-interest of Bangladesh which was to pursue her own trade interest or economic agenda.
As Foreign Minister Abdul Momen pointed out Bangladesh had trade deficit by billions of dollars against both India and China. It's not something Bangladesh relishes about. What this means is: Bangladesh has been a good market for both India and China but India and China have not been so for Bangladesh. A trade imbalance by billions of dollars is rather a bad thing for a country's economy and unfortunately Bangladesh still finds itself in such a situation.
Right since the independence of Bangladesh, the country's foreign policy has been based on a simple principle: "friendship to all and malice to none." In fact, this cornerstone of the foreign policy of Bangladesh was introduced by the first Awami League government led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and since then there hasn't been any deviation from this core principle of the foreign policy of Bangladesh. All successive governments principally followed the same foreign policy.
So, India can rest assured that regardless of trade agreements or economic cooperation pacts with China or any country who India may not even be in good relations with, Bangladesh-India friendship will remain unaffected as it is based on a solid foundation after India's role in the war of Bangladesh's independence. However, India must stop its controversial "shoot-on-sight" policy on the Bangladesh-India border. No nation in the world has such an extreme measure of shooting unarmed civilians at the border of another friendly country.
This extreme policy of India and consequently the killing of so many unarmed Bangladeshi civilians each year for year after year at the hands of Indian Border Security Force have been major irritants in Bangladesh-India relations. While critics raise the issue of extrajudicial killings of unarmed civilians by Indian BSF almost routinely at the Bangladeshi border, there is no good or reasonable argument to counter those critics. Even the Bangladesh government officials do not have any.
Indian newspapers like Anandabazar Patrika are not promoting Bangladesh-India friendship. They are rather hurting it through their mean-spirited remarks and other offensive comments. They should stop Bangladesh-bashing and instead start working for promoting peace, harmony and friendship along the Bangladesh-India border. As long as the killing of unarmed Bangladeshi civilians at the border will continue, Bangladesh-India friendship will also continue to take hit from Indian troops. So, let's go for the course correction and begin our friendship at the border---where we need it most.
Being always a peace-loving country, Bangladeshis opposed to any kind of conflict in the region. A good friend to both India and China, it sincerely wants to see peace between them. Bangladesh hopes that the current India-China standoff will be resolved through peaceful and diplomatic means, as war will not advance any interest of any party.
The writer is a Toronto-based journalist who also writes for the Toronto Sun and Canada's Post Media Network