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China Daily Global / 2021-04 / 06 / Page003

Bangladesh looks to BRI to boost development

By ARUNAVA DAS in Kolkata, India | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-04-06 00:00

A slew of China-backed infrastructure projects that are lined up or nearing completion are propping up Bangladesh's ambitious plans to transform from a least-developed country to a developing nation by 2026 and benefit others in the region, analysts say.

Many of the projects, including a Chinese-funded, $3.3 billion rail link related to the 6.4-kilometer-long multipurpose bridge over the Padma River, are integrated with the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.

"Bangladesh is counting heavily on the success of its mega infrastructure projects that are linked" to the BRI, said Sirazul Islam, executive chairman of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority.

Bangladesh's China-financed projects include a $1.9 billion power plant in Payra, a $1 billion digital connectivity venture and a $1.32 billion power grid network upgrade.

"Once completed, the Padma bridge alone will raise Bangladesh's GDP by more than 1 percent, benefiting about 30 million people in 21 southwestern districts of Bangladesh," said Fahmida Khatun, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a think tank based in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

"Not only will the bridge connect the 21 districts, it will also help them become economic growth centers. Some will emerge as new economic corridors as well," she said. "This will in turn create numerous new jobs and raise incomes."

Due to its proximity to China and India, Bangladesh is seen as having the potential to become a trading and manufacturing hub.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina views the BRI as an opportunity for Bangladesh to make big progress in its economic journey. Seeking a greater level of efficiency for the nation, she has signed an agreement to set up an investment cooperation working group with China.

In a bid to attract more investment, the government has allocated about 315 hectares of land for a special economic zone for Chinese investors in the Anwara Upazila administrative region. More than 60 enterprises have reportedly expressed a desire to sign on, with investments worth some $280 million.

"If the promised investments in Bangladeshi infrastructure serve as an indicator, then China and the Chinese look to be dominant players on the country's investment horizon," said Abdur Rahim, co-owner of Shanti Enterprises, a Dhaka-based import-export company.

In 2015, China surpassed India to become Bangladesh's largest trading partner, Rahim said. He also recalled "how China overtook the US in 2018 to occupy the top investor's position in our country".China held on to the position in the subsequent year as well by investing $1.2 billion.

Under the BRI, Bangladesh is receiving a number of investments, the majority of which have come after President Xi Jinping visited Bangladesh in October 2016.

Islam said BRI activities gathered steam in Bangladesh after the Chinese president's trip. "Xi's 22-hour state visit paved the way for Bangladesh to ink a number of investment deals with China," he said.

Islam added that the BRI is maintaining its momentum even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, though he acknowledged that investment activities overall have suffered in the past year.

The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority "is doing its best to keep potential investors, especially those from China, engaged through webinars and other virtual platforms," he said. "We are constantly in touch."

Islam expressed confidence that Chinese investment will soon flow into the manufacturing sector as well.

Khatun from the Centre for Policy Dialogue said: "Good infrastructure defines how a country makes progress on all fronts. A bridge or a port doesn't merely mean easier communication or faster movement for people and freight. It also means that there will be more industries, more capital, more jobs, higher income and better livelihoods."

Anu Mohammed, member-secretary of Bangladesh's National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Power, Port and Mineral Resources, said the country faces a long, hard road as it strives to take its economy to the next level.

"We all know that it's not an easy task. But if your plan is realistic and meticulous, and you play your cards well and implementations of policy measures are effective, it is eminently achievable," he said.

Khatun said that with Bangladesh strongly integrated with the BRI, prospects for the entire region, not just Bangladesh, are bright.

The Padma rail project is integral to the proposed Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor, a key link of the BRI.

Spread over 1.65 million square kilometers and inhabited by more than 450 million people, the economic corridor will connect China's Yunnan province, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Kolkata, India, through road, rail, water and air links.

Connectivity through the BCIM Economic Corridor has the potential to benefit India's northeast states through trade with Yunnan province. Bangladesh can also benefit through links with India's northeast region and Yunnan, Khatun said.

Technicians examine solar panels installed at a factory in Gazipur on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Jan 3. The South Asian country is upgrading its energy system. XINHUA

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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