Exclusive interview of Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh
Published : Tuesday, 22 December, 2020 at 12:00 AM Count : 729
China-Bangladesh economic and trade cooperation have been making tangible and progressing rapidly in the last few years, especially after President Xi Jinping's visit to Bangladesh in 2016. Both China and Bangladesh are strategic partners in cooperation. Ranging from trade, commerce, development to defence cooperation, both countries enjoy strong bilateral ties. In an exclusive interview for The Daily Observer, Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh, His Excellency Li Jiming has shared in-depth looks to Bangladesh - China bilateral ties. The interview has been conducted by our Assistant Editor, Shahriar Feroze.
Daily Observer: The entire world is grappling with the deadly Coronavirus this year. What's the future of a potential Chinese Vaccine? Is there any possibility for a Government - To - Government agreement for sharing a Chinese vaccine in the near future? Will more Chinese health experts visit Bangladesh?
His Excellency Li Jiming: Vaccines are the most important and effective tool to fight against the coronavirus. China's vaccine development progress can be summed up in two "fives": the first is "five" technological pathways to successful vaccine development. After the pandemic broke out, the Chinese government, at the earliest time possible, specified plans to develop 5 different types of vaccines including inactivated vaccine, recombinant protein vaccine, adenoviral vector vaccine, attenuated influenza vaccine and nucleic acid vaccine. Following the plans, the vaccine research and development has been carried out in an orderly manner. Second, there are right now five Chinese vaccine candidates under clinical trials in more than 10 countries including the UAE, Brazil, Pakistan, Indonesia and Peru, besides some other vaccines in phase one/two trials.
Following scientific rules and regulations, Chinese researchers and scientists have been working around the clock and making arduous efforts on the vaccines. But so far, none of the COVID-19 vaccines has been officially approved to enter the market by the Chinese government. So please follow up the official information from the Chinese authorities on the latest progress of Chinese vaccine research and development.
President Xi Jinping repeatedly said that China is willing to cooperate on COVID-19 vaccines through bilateral and multilateral channels. We have promised that the Chinese vaccines, once ready to be deployed, will be made a global public good and provided to developing countries, including Bangladesh, to the best of our capacity. Between China and Bangladesh, China's Zhifei Biological Products is now planning to conduct phase 3 vaccine trials in Bangladesh. I believe there will be plenty of cooperation opportunities in the trial as well as the production and distribution of vaccine once the company gets the approval from Bangladesh authorities.
Daily Observer: What would you say regarding defence cooperation? With 2020 coming to end soon, what would you say on Bangladesh and China's geopolitical relations and strategic partnership of cooperation?
His Excellency Li Jiming: China and Bangladesh share a profound, intimate and thriving bilateral relationship, both historically and in reality. In ancient time, our two countries were already connected through friendly cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman visited China twice, heralding the cordial ties between China and Bangladesh in modern history. After the independence of Bangladesh, we soon developed a close and mutually beneficial relationship based on equality and mutual respect.
China always sees Bangladesh as an independent and trustworthy friend, as well as an important development partner. China has been a major player in all the development areas of Bangladesh, including trade and investment, transport, power and energy, development assistance, etc. And Bangladesh is a critical partner in China's Belt and Road initiative. In 2016, our bilateral ties were upgraded to Strategic Partnership of Cooperation during Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit. Since then, we have entered a booming period of cooperation in more extensive areas including culture, education and technologies, alongside the traditional development sectors.
This year, when COVID-19 struck, China and Bangladesh have stood in strong solidarity in the fight against the virus, in coordination with the international community as a whole. The coordinated efforts have driven up our cooperation in the health sector and our mutual trust in a way like never before. I believe this trend will only grow stronger and steadier as we move into the post-COVID period.
Daily Observer: The world is fast transforming under a 'New World Order', triggered by the pandemic. How do you evaluate Bangladesh's geopolitical and geostrategic importance in today's world?
His Excellency Li Jiming: The year 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations (UN). As a founding member of the UN and the first country to sign the UN Charter, China will continue to be committed to multilateralism and a multi-polar world. China supports the UN to play a central role in international affairs and defends the UN's authority and status. This is one of the fundamental features of China's foreign policy. China will firmly uphold the UN-centered international system and the international order underpinned by international law.
The COVID-19 pandemic makes multilateralism all the more important as we are in the same boat against the same torrent. To fight the pandemic and resume our normal way of living, we should unite as one instead of retreating to our own small corners. Standing by each other and upholding multilateralism is our only way out.
Daily Observer: How do you evaluate Bilateral BRI cooperation, economic and trade ties?
His Excellency Li Jiming: A number of major infrastructure projects have been implemented by Chinese enterprises in the fields of transportation, energy, power and communications in Bangladesh. Since 2016, the amount of the concessional loans provided by the Chinese Government to Bangladesh has amounted to about USD10 billion, which tops the amount among the development partners of Bangladesh. And Bangladesh has been one of the countries utilizing the largest amount of Chinese concessional loans in three consecutive years.
In the field of transportation, since 1986, the Chinese Government has helped Bangladesh build 7 bridges under the China-aid framework, which were named as the 1st to 7th China-Bangladesh Friendship Bridge. The construction of the 8th China-Bangladesh Friendship Bridge started in 2017. Traffic congestion has been effectively alleviated and flood losses greatly reduced by these bridges in Bangladesh. The Padma Bridge Rail Link Project, financed by concessional loans from the Chinese Government, is currently the largest G-to-G project under "Belt and Road Initiative ", with a cost of USD3.1 billion. The Multilane Road Tunnel under the River Karnaphuli Project is the only tunnel under river in South Asia, which is also financed by concessional loans from the Chinese Government. In addition, projects such as the Padma Bridge and the Cox Bazaar Railway are also under construction by Chinese companies. When completed, these projects will greatly facilitate the travel of local people and enhance regional connectivity.
In the field of power, with the completion of a number of major power plants, including Gulashao 365MW, Payra 1320MW, S.Alam 1320MW, Patuakhali 1320MW and Barisar 350MW power plants, they will play an important role in narrowing the power gap and alleviating the power shortage in Bangladesh.
In terms of high-tech, the establishment of Tier National Data Centre, funded by concessional loans of the Chinese Government, is the most advanced data storage centre in Southeast Asia and South Asia. Installation of Single Point Mooring with Double Pipelines Project will directly import crude oil from ocean ships into Chittagong Refinery through undersea oil pipelines, cutting the crude oil transportation cost and crude oil loss by about USD500 to 800 million annually. Power Grid Network Strengthening Project under PGCB, and Expansion and Strengthening of Power System Network under DPDC Area, will realize the intelligent operation of power grid in Bangladesh.
In addition, the successful completion of the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre, built with Chinese assistance in 2002, and the forthcoming China-Bangladesh Friendship Exhibition Centre and other large functional landmark buildings have served social and economic development of Bangladesh in a favourable way, and have also become the witness of the enduring friendship between China and Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, the vitality and huge potential of Bangladesh's economy are attracting more and more Chinese investors. Especially in the past decade, investment from China to Bangladesh has achieved high-quality development. In terms of growth rate, according to the statistics of Bangladesh Bank, China's FDI stock in Bangladesh at the end of 2011 and 2019 was USD70 million and USD833 million respectively, achieved an increase of 10.9 times and an average annual compound growth of 36.3% for 8 years. For the three consecutive fiscal years since FY2018, the net inflow of investment from China to Bangladesh ranked first among all the FDI sources of Bangladesh. In terms of investment areas, the focus of China's investment in Bangladesh has shifted from light industry such as garments, shoes and hats to infrastructures such as power plants and highways. Chinese investors have also invested in Bangladesh's finance, mobile payment, and automotive industries. In the future, the strong momentum of China's investment to Bangladesh will continue.
China-Bangladesh trade cooperation has also made considerable progress. In the year when diplomatic relations were established, the bilateral trade volume was only USD3.06 million. In 2019, the bilateral trade volume reached USD18.33 billion, which has undergone earth-shaking changes compared with that of 44 years ago. China has become Bangladesh's largest trading partner, and Bangladesh has become China's second largest trading partner in South Asia. In the past 5 years, the bilateral trade volume has maintained a relatively high speed of growth, with an increase of 24.6%. In particular, China has granted a preferential zero tax rate to 97% of tax items originating in Bangladesh from July 1, 2020, which will not only help alleviate the trade imbalance, but will also promote the recovery of bilateral trade from the pandemic and provide continuous impetus to the social and economic development of Bangladesh in the era of post-pandemic .
Daily Observer: What opportunities does the 14th Five Year Plan of China have to offer Bangladesh?
His Excellency Li Jiming: The Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee was held in Beijing this October. This important conference coincides with a key moment in the development history of China as the country is about to achieve its first centenary goal by 2021 and start for the second - set to be realized by mid-21st century. Therefore, the conference bears overall and historic significance. It has outlined the blueprint for China's development in the future, defined the direction and the goals, and set forth a guideline for China's economic and social development in the coming five years and beyond.
The conference reviewed and approved the "CPC Central Committee's Proposals for the Formulation of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035", which is definitely the most important outcome. The "Proposals" will create more opportunities for cooperation between China and Bangladesh:
The first opportunity is China's huge market. With a population of 1.4 billion, including a middle-income group of over 400 million, China is a huge market with the greatest potential in the world. In the coming ten years, it is expected to import goods worth over 22 trillion US dollars. China is the first country in the world to achieve economic recovery amid the pandemic. It will be a major powerhouse for global growth in the post-pandemic era. It will create enormous cooperation opportunities and development space for businesses of all countries. Going forward, Chinese and Bangladeshi businesses can seize the opportunities provided by platforms such as CIIE, the China International Fair for Trade in Services and the China Import and Export Fair to expand trade and economic cooperation. Working together, the business communities could contribute to recovery and growth of both our economies and bring more benefits to our peoples.
The second opportunity is China-Bangladesh open and win-win cooperation. In building the "dual circulation" development paradigm, China is committed to opening up at a higher level on all fronts. This will enable better connection and sharing of production factors and resources between the domestic and international markets in a more efficient way. Bangladesh always offers generous opportunities for investment under its liberalized Industrial Policy and export-oriented, private sector-led growth strategy. With improving business environment, China and Bangladesh could continue to strengthen development strategy coordination and fully exploit the potential of cooperation in various fields, such as infrastructure, finance, energy, transportation, agriculture, 5G communications, high-speed railway, aerospace, and blue economy. Meanwhile, China and Bangladesh can actively explore the possibility of signing a free trade agreement to further support more movements of goods and production factors between our two countries.
The third opportunity is to work together to build better global governance. Following to the Proposals, China will actively build partnerships with countries around the world, remain committed to multilateralism and the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, and take an active part in the reform and development of the global governance system. China will continue to contribute to safeguarding and promoting multilateralism and international cooperation with the United Nations at the centre. Bangladesh is an indispensible member of the international community, who has been playing a very active and constructive role in global affairs. The two countries can join hands to be defenders of world peace, contributors to global development, and upholders of international order.
Daily Observer: What role is your government playing to solve the Rohingya crisis?
His Excellency Li Jiming: Since the very beginning of the crisis, China has been playing a mediating role between Bangladesh and Myanmar, which are two good neighbours to each other and to China as well. As high-level officials from both sides have said many times, it is ultimately a bilateral issue to be solved through bilateral means. Despite twists and turns, China has been facilitating dialogues between Bangladesh and Myanmar, in Dhaka, Beijing, Naypyidaw, New York as well as on other multilateral occasions, and we will continue to do so.
While encouraging talks between the two sides, China fully respects the central role of Bangladesh and Myanmar in this issue. The tripartite mechanism is only complementary to the existing bilateral mechanisms. Bangladesh and Myanmar will have the final say of what they will do and what they will not. We believe that international pressure is not going to help anybody, and that the international community should play a constructive role in finding a durable solution.
Daily Observer: Do you think People-To-People contact between the two countries have increased, If your answer is yes, how?
His Excellency Li Jiming : In the field of people-to-people and cultural, China and Bangladesh will focus on further implementing projects within the framework of the Cultural and Tourism Exchange Programme between China and Bangladesh for the period 2019-2022, continue to facilitate media cooperation, artistic performances, press and publication, education cooperation and other aspects, and make pioneering efforts to advance cultural and tourism integration, archaeological research and acrobatic training. Under the current situation of the pandemic, it is inconvenient for physical personnel exchanges to take place between China and Bangladesh. Thus, our side would like to promote people-to-people and cultural exchanges through online platform to strengthen communication.