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Bangladesh–China relations


Bangladesh–China relations

Sino-Bangladeshi relations
Map indicating locations of China and Bangladesh



Diplomatic relations between People's Republic of Bangladesh and the People's Republic of China were established in 1976, five years after Bangladesh gained independence.The present-day Sino-Bangladesh relationship is characterised by close political, economic and military ties.[1]


  • Early history 1
  • 20th Century 2
  • High level state visits 3
  • Economic Relations 4
    • Strategic Cooperation 4.1
    • Trade and investment 4.2
    • Energy Cooperation 4.3
  • Defense cooperation 5
  • See also 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9

Early history

Mural of Atish Dipankar at the Ralung Monastery in Tibet

Chinese monks, scholars and traders of the Qin dynasty, visited the ancient Vedic kingdom of Pundravardhana, located in present-day Bogra and Rangpur, as early as the 2nd century BCE, by travelling across the south-west Silk Road.[2] Between the 5th and 7th centuries, many Chinese monks such as Yijing and Xuanzang, travelled to the Buddhist monasteries of northern Bangladesh, seeking knowledge of the "Western Heaven" Bengal Region. Atish Dipankar Srigana, a Buddhist master from Bikrampur, Bangladesh, travelled to Tibet in the 8th century and established the Sarma schools of Tibetan Buddhism.[2]

Relations flourished during the Early Bengal Sultanate. After Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah sent the first embassies to China, the Ming dynasty and the sultanate frequently exchanged diplomatic missions. The Yongle Emperor, in particular, sent annual envoys to Bengal.[2]

The tribute giraffe of Sultan Hamza Shah being presented to the Yongle Emperor in 1414

Chinese explorer Zheng He (Cheng Ho) undertook at least two, and according to some four, voyages to Bengal. An excerpt from the journals of the time describes the journey to Sonargaon

"We started from the Kingdom of Sumatra, sailed with the wind for twenty days and anchored in Chittagong. From there we took small boats for over 500 li (250 kilometers) to Sonargaon....There was a guard of honor of thousands of people accompanying us along the way.... The Sultan's palace was tall and spacious with pillars in the color of brass and decorated with flower and animal carvings. There were long corridors on both sides with thousands of armed cavalry squads inside and extraordinarily strong and dignified soldiers equipped with swords, bows and arrows outside. On the left and right of vermilion steps leading up to the palace there were over a hundred parasols made of peacock feathers. Hundreds of elephant squads lined up in front of the palace. The Sultan wore a crown studded with eight gems and sat on the throne with a sword on his knees. Two men with silver staffs came and guided the emperor's envoy forward.... The locals are followers of Islam. They are honest and pure and speak a language called Bengali. Some men wrap their foreheads in white cloth and wear long white shirts. Some others are wrapped in colorful cloth from the waist down. Women are dressed in short shirts and draped with brocades.... The kingdom is densely populated and has abundant resources and fertile lands. Hard-working men plough the fields while diligent women weave cloth. Many of the rich build ships and go abroad for business...."

20th Century

Chinese premier Zhou Enlai visited East Pakistan several times in the 1950s and 60s. The Chinese Communist Party maintained close ties with Bengali nationalist leaders Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. Bhashani in particular, was considered close to Mao Zedong. While serving as the Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1957, Awami League president H. S. Suhrawardy became the first Pakistani leader to make a state visit to the PRC.

During the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971 with Pakistan, Communist China strongly opposed Bangladesh's secession from Pakistan, because of its close ties with the Pakistan and diplomatic rapprochement with the United States. In the years immediately following independence, Bangladesh was also close to India and the Soviet Union, considered by China as adversaries. In 1972, China exercised its veto power as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to block Bangladesh's entry into the United Nations. However, after the assassination of Sheikh Mujib and subsequent presidential reign of Khandakar Mushtaq, China gave recognition to Bangladesh's independence and newly formed government. Following demise of Khandakar, Ziaur Rahman took the helm of leadership in Bangladesh and China's stance remained positive to the new government about the diplomatic ties and by 1976, the two states began developing formal relations.[3]

By the mid-1980s, China had forged close military, commercial and cultural ties with Bangladesh and also supplied it with military aid and equipment.[3] The then-president of Bangladesh Hossain Mohammad Ershad was received with much fanfare and warmth when he visited Beijing in July 1987. A Bangladesh-China friendship bridge was constructed and inaugurated over river Buriganga connecting Dhaka-BikrampurMunshigonj by the Chinese as token of this newly advancing diplomatic and military relationship. On 4 October 2000, Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (Bangladesh) issued a postal stamp marking the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Bangladesh-China diplomatic relations. By this time, China had provided economic assistance totaling US$300 million to Bangladesh and the bilateral trade had reached a value mounting to a billion dollars.[4] In 2002, the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made an official visit to Bangladesh and both countries declared 2005 as the "Bangladesh-China Friendship Year."[5]

The two countries signed nine different bi-lateral agreements to increase there mutual relationship.[6]

On Bangladesh Nationalist Party PM Begum Khaleda Zia's invitation China was added as an observer in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).[7] After Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh in 2007, China donated US$1 million for relief and reconstruction in cyclone-hit areas.[8]

High level state visits

In January 1977, under China's invitation President Zia Rahman visited China.In March 1978, Vice Premier Li Xiannian was invited to visit Bangladesh. This is the first ever visit taken by Chinese leadership to Bangladesh. During the visit, both the countries signed the Agreement of Cooperation in Defense, Economy, Science and Technology. In August 1980, President Zia Rahman again visited China. The two governments inked the Agreement of Loans and the Agreement of Aviation Transportation.[9]

India backed military dictator Hussain Mohammad Ershad attached great importance to the development of Bangladesh's relations with China. Within a period of over 8 years after Hussain Mohammad Ershad came into power backed by India, Mr. Ershad paid 5 visits to China (respectively in November 1982, July 1985, July 1987, November 1988 and in June 1990). In March 1986, President Li Xiannian of China visited Bangladesh. Both sides expressed the determination to further strengthen the traditional friendship and expand cooperation so as to promote the bilateral relations to a higher level. In November 1989, Premier Li Peng paid an official goodwill visit to Bangladesh, during which both sides signed the Agreement on Mutual Exemption of Visas and the Agreement of Trade.[9]

In June 1991 Prime Minister Khaleda Zia paid an official State visit to China.[9]

In September 1996, Prime Minister Sheikh Hashina paid an official goodwill visit to China, which was her first visit to foreign countries after assuming the Prime Minister's office. In April 1999, Mr. Li Peng, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China made an official visit to Bangladesh. During his talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hashina, the Prime Minister extend sincere thanks to the Chinese government for its unselfish assistance to Bangladesh.[10]

In January 2002, Premier Zhu Rongji visited Bangladesh and held talks with Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. Both the sides reiterated to further enhance the bilateral friendship and cooperation, with focus on the issues of bilateral economic cooperation and trade ties. In December 2002, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia visited China.[9]

In 2015 the Bangladsh Road Transport and Bridges Minister made the disclosure while talking to journalists at his secretariat office President Xi Jinping is likely to visit the country in October. Final date of the visit and programmes are being worked out by diplomats in Beijing and Dhaka. Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Huchen, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh would invite the Chinese President as well as the Chinese Premier to attend celebration of 40 years of diplomatic relations this year. “The event would elevate the ties between the two countries to new heights.” [11]

Chinese high level officials will start visiting Bangladesh marking the diplomatic relations this month through the visit of Vice Premier of China Liu Yandong on May 24–26, 2015 [12]

Economic Relations

Strategic Cooperation

The matrix of Beijing- Dhaka relations permeates multiple avenues, ranging from strategic to commercial, from energy security to infrastructural. Of these the strategic ties are one of the most salient.China has helped to build Bangladesh’s military capabilities since 2002.Beijing being Bangladesh’s main provider for military hardware. Naval defense is being given particular attention. Bangladesh is keen to have strong military alliance with China due to traditional military threat like insurgency and terrorist activities close to Bangladeshi border with India and Myanmar. It helps maintain the balance in the state’s internal security. It also addresses China’s call for peace in Bangladesh for smooth development. Besides, a strong military setup adds a perception of stability in the eyes of international community which is observing constant political turmoil in Bangladesh caused by internal meddling of India. In Beijing’s and Dhaka’s view, such perceptions will help prevent hegemonic tendencies from greater power such as the U.S. China also aids Dhaka’s military modernization to help contain the former’s once-staunch ally in Myanmar. A strong military at the border will help check the large refugee influx from Myanmar and Indian insurgent operations in CHT. Myanmar’s land and maritime border disputes with Bangladesh cause friction not only for political reasons. Energy security is a key driving factor- Bangladesh has discovered enormous energy reserves in its waters, which penetrate the disputed territory. Beijing is thus an important source for Dhaka’s maritime security in context of Myanmar and Indian encroachment. China too eyes Bangladesh’s oil and gas reserves of 15.51 trillion cubic feet. The incentive for harnessing these reserves has prompted China to go beyond providing the defense component to contain the dispute. China has also mediated between Bangladesh and Myanmar. The negotiation was successful in preventing Myanmar from exploring for oil in disputed waters. China is pushing ahead with its strategic and commercial forays in Bangladesh at full speed. Chinese ventures into infrastructure building and port development are aimed at consolidating Beijing’s vision for a maritime corridor extending from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean via the Bay of Bengal. This corridor will help resolve the Malacca Dilemma by ensuring lesser reliance on the narrow Malacca Straits which see transit of 80 per cent of China’s oil supplies. In this context China is helping to develop the Chittagong port along the coast of Bangladesh. It is significant that Chittagong is in proximity to Kyakpiu, a Myanmarese port from where an oil pipeline is being built to Kunming. If an oil pipeline is built from Chittagong, it can be parallel to the Myanmarese energy transit route originating from Kyakpiu and Sittwe, thus expanding a valuable energy corridor for China. Bangladesh too desires enhanced infrastructure. Dhaka has sought Chinese assistance in constructing a highway passing through Myanmar to Yunnan province of China.[13]

China's current strategy in the Indian Ocean is to make its presence felt through building a credible connectivity strength. Being the world's second largest economy and having very high dependence on imported oil—all of which passes through the strategic channels located in the Indian Ocean—China is in a bettet position to have close ties with littoral states in the Bay. China is gradually expanding its economic and political influence among states in the region.[14]

Despite the power gap between China and Bangladesh, the two countries have shown clear commitment over the years to building “a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship” that will surely pick up the momentum in the coming years. Indeed, Bangladesh's relations with China over the next decade clearly present a host of opportunities. Never in history has the Middle Kingdom emerged as an indispensable economic partner to Bangladesh as it does today. Many people think that Bangladesh's comprehensive economic partnership with China could help Bangladesh become a manufacturing - trading nation pushing the latter's growth trajectory to a new height. Bangladesh's diplomacy at this stage needs to be highly creative and anchored on national consensus. At the same time, Bangladesh needs to be careful that its ties with China should remain a priority in securing its economic and national sovereignty vis-a-vis posing a threat to Indian security in the region nor jeopardise relations with the United States, which intends to re-engage and play a more constructive role in Asia.[14]

Trade and investment

Bangladesh is third largest trade partner of China in South Asia. But, the bilateral trade between them is highly tilted in favour of Beijing.[15] Bilateral trade reached as high as US$3.19 billion in 2006, reflecting a growth of 28.5% between 2005 and 2006. China has bolstered its economic aid to Bangladesh to address concerns of trade imbalance; in 2006, Bangladesh's exports to China amounted only about USD 98.8 million.[16] Under the auspices of the Asia-Pacific Free Trade Agreement (AFTA), China removed tariff barriers to 84 types of commodities imported from Bangladesh and is working to reduce tariffs over the trade of jute and textiles, which are Bangladesh's chief domestic products.[16] China has also offered to construct nuclear power plants in Bangladesh to help meet the country's growing energy needs, while also seeking to aid the development of Bangladesh's natural gas resources.[17] [18] China's mainly imports raw materials from Bangladesh like leather, cotton textiles, fish, etc. China's major exports to Bangladesh include textiles, machinery and electronic products, cement, fertiliser, tyre, raw silk, maize, etc.[19]

In 2005, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao visited Bangladesh on an official visit on 7 and 8 April. Various agreements were signed during this visit. On transportation side, China and Bangladesh have agreed to start a direct air transport route between Dhaka and Beijing via Kunming. Also Kunming-Chittagong road link through Myanmar is also considered.[15] The Chinese premier readily agreed to constructing the Di-Aluminium Phosphate (DAP) fertiliser factory in Chittagong entirely on concessional lending instead of on supplier's credit.[20]

In 2007, Chinese Assistant Minister of Commerce, Wang Chao visited Bangladesh with the 39-member purchase delegation. It is the biggest purchase delegation ever to Bangladesh with over 10 companies listed in China's top 500 and some of them in world's top 500. Delegation is reported to have purchased Bangladeshi goods worth over USD $50 million.[21] Both countries accepted to build a "Bangladesh-China Friendship Exhibition Center" in Dhaka.[21]

Bangladesh's relationship with China has historically affected India in one way or another. In 2007, news reports claimed that China was planning to divert the water of Brahmaputra river to its north-west regions. The Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh met Chinese president Hu Jintao to schedule the first meeting on this matter. Adding to India's voice was Bangladesh, which would be deeply affected if China were to actually go ahead with its plans.[22]

China wanted to invest about 350 million US dollars in various sectors of Bangladesh for product diversification, value addition as well as enhancement of exports for mutual benefits of the two countries.[11]

China being the largest trade partner of Bangladesh, an imbalance in the bilateral trade relations in favor of China exists. In 2006-2007, while Bangladesh’s imports from China were as high as US $3 billion, its exports to China amounted to just US $200 million. In order to bridge this huge trade gap China has not only provided economic aid to Bangladesh but also signed the Asia – Pacific Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) to remove tariff barriers from commodities imported from Bangladesh. Bilateral trade amounted to US $7 billion in 2010. China has also taken the initiative to develop natural gas resources and nuclear power plants in Bangladesh. The landlocked Yunan province of China has sought to engage in economic cooperation with Bangladesh to rectify its own regional inequalities and gain access to the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh too, has offered to set up a Special Economic Zone for China. The ‘Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation’ and the ‘Framework Agreement’ on a concessional loan provided by China to Bangladesh are two other significant treaties signed by the two nations.[23]

Bilateral trade between China and Bangladesh crossed $10.3 billion in 2014 fiscal year tilting heavily towards China.[24]

Energy Cooperation

The Cabinet of Bangladesh government has approved Bangladesh-China joint venture power company at a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The joint venture between Bangladesh’s North-West Power Generation Company Limited and China’s National Machinery Import and Export Corporation named Bangladesh-China Power Company Private Ltd has already started setting up a coal-based 1320 megawatt power plant in Patuakhali.The project site will be on the bank of the Rabnabad River near Payra maritime port, while the project has an estimated cost of $2bn. The joint venture company’s share will have 50:50 equity ratio between the two companies, while the project will be implemented on a 30:70 equity-debt basis.[25]

Defense cooperation

The Bangladesh Army has been equipped with Chinese tanks, its navy has Chinese frigates and missile boats and the Bangladesh Air Force flies Chinese fighter jets. In 2002, China and Bangladesh signed a "Defence Cooperation Agreement" which covers military training and defence production. In 2006, in a report submitted to the United Nations by China, for its exports and imports of major conventional arms revealed Dhaka is emerging as a major buyer of weapons made in China. China sold 65 large calibre artillery systems, 16 combat aircraft and 114 missile and related equipment to Bangladesh in 2005. Besides this, some 200 small arms like pistols and sub-machine guns have also been imported along with regular 82-mm mortars.[26]

In 2008, Bangladesh set up an anti-ship missile launch pad near the Chittagong Port with assistance from China. The maiden missile test was performed on 12 May 2008 with active participation of Chinese experts. It successfully test-fired anti-ship missile C-802A with a strike range of 120 km from the frigate BNS Osman near Kutubdia Island in the Bay of Bengal. BNS Osman which was commissioned in 1989, is a 1500-ton Chinese built Jianghu class Frigate, and the C-802A missile is a modified version of Chinese Ying Ji-802 with weight reduced from 815 kg to 715 kg to increase the strike range from 42 km to 120 km.

In 2014 China agreed to supply to two Ming- Class submarines to Bangladesh Navy.[13]

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, China and Bangladesh has had close cooperation in the military field. The leaders of the two armed forces have exchanged visits frequently, which have contributed to the continuous development of friendship and cooperation between the two armed forces.[9]

Since 1976, the two countries have been maintaining regular contacts to negotiate weapons transfers, inspect military facilities, and explore areas of defence cooperation. Chinese advisers and technicians have periodically served in Chittagong and Dhaka to assist with making Chinese equipment operational in the Bangladeshi armed forces. As early as 1987, Yang Dezhi, Chief of the general staff of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA), conducted a five-day goodwill visit to Bangladesh. Today, almost 70% of Bangladesh's defence inventory, comprising fighter aircrafts, frigates, coastal patrol boats, and tanks, is supplied by China. Bangladesh Air Force looked to China for the bulk of its aircrafts as well as for training. Most of Bangladesh's Air Force inventory included Chinese versions of the Old Soviet MiG 19 and 21, and Chinese A-5s and F-6/7 type fighters.The Bangladesh Navy has an ambitious plan to acquire two high-value submarines, a number of frigates, large patrol aircraft, patrol craft, two landing craft utility (LCU), hydrographic unit, salvage vessel and missile boats and equip some ships with missiles in the next five years.[14]

See also



  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d
  3. ^ a b Bangladesh – China and Other Asian Nations
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Bangladesh-China" Friendship Year
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c d e
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^ a b c
  15. ^ a b
  16. ^ a b China grants over USD 10 million aid to Bangladesh
  17. ^ China's March on South Asia
  18. ^ China keen to build Rooppur nuclear plant
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ a b
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^

Further reading

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