BY SAMUEL BAID
The country, which China did its worst to nip in the bud about four decades ago, has become economically and strategically very important to it. Chinese President Jinping, who was in Dhaka on October 14 – 15, told newsmen after talks with the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina: “We agreed to elevate China-Bangladesh relations from closer comprehensive partnership of cooperation and to increase high-level exchanges and strategic communication so that our bilateral relations continue to move ahead at a higher level.”
During Xi’s visit the two countries signed 40 agreements on loan and investment deals in the infrastructure sector worth US $ 20 billion. President Xi said: “China–Bangladesh relationship is now at a new historical starting point and heading towards a promising future”. Dhaka assured the Chinese guest of Bangladesh’s support to his pet One Belt-One Road (OBOR) initiative and to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which passes through the controversial territory of Pakistan occupied Gilgit-Baltistan.
In preparation Xi’s visit, Chinese ambassador to Dhaka Ma Mingjiang became active in painting a rosy picture of future China-Bangladesh relations. Ambassador Mingjiang told a seminar in Dhaka on October 3 that China was open to partnering with the third country for building Bangladesh’s first deep sea port for which he said, Sonadia could be the most ideal place as 82 percent of Bangladesh’s export and import done through Chittagong port. He had earlier said that China wanted to be a partner of Bangladesh in blue economy development through cooperation in the areas of capacity building, exploring sea resources and other mutually agreed ways. On another occasion the Chinese ambassador said his country was the largest trading partner of Bangladesh. But that was not enough. His country wanted to replace the United States as the top investor in Bangladesh. He said there was all reason to believe that within a very short time “we will be number one investor”. Bangladesh has already allocated two economic zones in Gazria and Anwara in Chittagong to attract Chinese investment. China may give soft loan for their development.
Before Xi’s visit to Dhaka, Bangladesh’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Mohammad Shahriar Alam had ready with him a list of requests. It included loan for project financing, technology for upgrading of existing industry, agriculture and deep sea fishing, management skill and market access and brand equity. Speaking out a seminar where the Chinese ambassador Ma was present, Shahriar Alam said his country supported the One China policy and wanted to “pair our resources and our legitimate economic ambitions with the rise of China”.
Comparatively small and poor countries may not be able to resist China’s largesse and economic leverage. Therefore, it will be cynical to recall China’s abetment to war crimes committed by the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan to prevent the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. But this cynicism cannot be avoided because of Dhaka’s two contradictory attitudes towards the perpetrators of the war crimes and their abetters.
According to Dhaka, three million Bengalis were killed and 0.2 million women were raped by Pakistani troops and their Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) minions. The Bangladesh government has hanged some JeI leaders who were found guilty of these crimes by a tribunal. The government demands Pakistan to apologise for the 1971 war crimes. Pakistan not only refuses to apologise but also condemns the execution of JeI leaders, thus justifying the 1971 genocide and rapes. This response of Pakistan has caused frenzy against it in Bangladesh. To show its resentment and Pakistan state policy of terror export, Dhaka announced its boycott of the 19th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) which was scheduled to be held in Islamabad in the second week of November. This means, the people and the government are still led by the 1971 events. In other words, recalling these events is no cynicism.
It is not in Bangladesh national interests to give even the slightest hint to China that it still remembers its support to Pakistan in 1971. It is a fact that without China behind it, Pakistan could not have committed genocide and rape on the scale that it did in little more than nine months. As mentioned earlier, the official claim of Bangladesh government is that 3 million people were killed and 0.2 million women lost their honour during the 1971 War. China’s stand was that the Pakistani Army was trying to keep Pakistan together. Therefore, while the whole world was horrified at the brutal massacres, China remained unmoved. Chinese Prime Minister Chou En Lai justified Pakistan’s handing of the situation by praising the Pak Gen Yahya Khan for doing “a lot of useful work to uphold the unification of Pakistan and to prevent it from moving towards a split”. He said “a handful of persons” wanted to sabotage the unification of Pakistan.
In the United Nations (UN), China strongly supported Pakistan, which practically meant then West Pakistan. It opposed moves for a political solution in East Pakistan. A political solution would have meant the implementation of the December 1970 general elections’ results which would have made Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League the ruling party of Pakistan – something the Army in West Pakistan would not allow. Thus, China became the only country to reject the erstwhile USSR’s draft resolution for a political settlement as “sinister.” In its draft resolution, China condemned India for “aggression”. The Chinese delegate called Bangladesh “a creation of India”. A People’s Daily commentator called Bangladesh a nonsense, “only a gimmick carried in the pocket of the Indian reactionaries”. He described Bangladesh leaders as “Secessionists” and a “handful of Pakistan national outcasts” collected by India and given the titles of “President” and “Prime Minister”.
After Bangladesh became a reality, China not only refused to recognise it, but it also tried to obstruct its entry into the UN. Not only this, it funded terrorists in Bangladesh to disrupt life in the country. On May 19, 1972, Prime Minister Sheikh Mujib told a political gathering in Dhaka that China was one of the countries who were pumping money into Bangladesh to encourage disruption and impede its economic recovery to undermine the liberation war.
That was early 1970s. Now things are different. Under the powerful leadership of Xi, China wants to push with greater vigour Ma Tse Tung’s policy of expansion. And so now we see so many articles through which thoughts and ideas are being floated by the Chinese state to depict Jinping as the true ideological successor of Mao and his leadership is even greater than the founder of the PRC. But the Chinese largesse in Bangladesh would have certainly its own faultlines and adverse economic consequences for smaller countries like Sri Lanka has already faced.