Departure of Diplomat Li Jiming and Expectations From the New Chinese Ambassador

China and Bangladesh have had diplomatic relations since 1976, five years after Bangladesh gained its independence. Since then, the two nations have built a “Closer Comprehensive Partnership of Cooperation” based on the values of equality, friendliness, and mutual benefit. Following that, both countries exchanged high-level meetings and visits, and they stepped up communication between their governments, legislatures, political parties, militaries, and non-governmental organizations.  They enhanced channels for bilateral collaboration, such as diplomatic consultations, and joint economic and trade committees, and fostered communication and cooperation at the government-to-people level. Chinese ambassadors to Bangladesh have historically taken the lead in helping to establish this link. In this course, Li Jiming’s contributions to strengthening Bangladesh-China bilateral relations are commendable and worthy of recognition. 

In the second week of December, Li Jiming will depart Dhaka after more than three years there. During this time, relations between Bangladesh and China have made significant strides in the areas of socioeconomic growth, facilitation of bilateral trade and investment, infrastructure development, maritime and air connectivity, industrial upgrading, and Covid-19 vaccine diplomacy.

In August 2019, when Li Jiming began serving with the Dhaka Mission, the Covid-19 epidemic had just begun in China. Later, Bangladesh was included in its global spread. The two countries’ ties made significant progress during those challenging times. Bangladesh was supplied with the Covid-19 vaccination by China. At the most critical time of the pandemic, China donated more than 5 million doses and established a commercial supply line of 77 million doses to Bangladesh. Li Jiming played a leading role in the cooperation between Bangladesh and China in the prevention of Covid-19.

Several high-level visits between the nations happened during his tenure. Most importantly, Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, visited Bangladesh while Li Jiming was in office. A number of agreements were signed at that time between the two countries. It is important to note that Bangladesh was the first nation in South Asia to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and sign the relevant MoU. BRI has made a lot of progress during the last three years. Payra Power Plant, Karnaphuli Tunnel, 8th Bangladesh-China Friendship Bridge, Dasherkandi Sewerage Treatment Plant, and Bangladesh-China Friendship Exhibition Center are a few examples.

For 12 years in a row, China has been Bangladesh’s top trading partner. During the last three years, some major advancements have been made. China increased its investment in Bangladesh by almost triple in 2021, to $1.26 billion. Bangladesh is now enjoying duty-free access to 99 percent of products in Chinese market. Li Jiming predicts that the trade volume between the two countries will exceed $28 billion this year. It would be a historic record high in Bangladesh-China bilateral trade.

The future of China-Bangladesh friendship is highly correlated with the educational cooperation and exchanges between the two countries. Praising Ambassador Li for his significant contribution to advancing China-Bangladesh relations in the area of educational exchanges, Dr. Dipu Moni, Bangladesh’s Minister of Education, said the country has made significant development in this area in the last three years. She also lauded China for its support of Bangladeshi students studying there during the Covid-19 pandemic and for facilitating students stranded in Bangladesh returning to China to complete their higher studies.

As the ambassador bid farewell to President Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen, and ministers from other departments, they all expressed their appreciation for Ambassador Li’s accomplishments throughout the tenure. Bangladesh-China ties, according to President Abdul Hamid, should maintain their current momentum and march toward an ever-brighter future. Foreign Minister Dr. Momen lauded the efforts of the outgoing Chinese Ambassador and reaffirmed Bangladesh’s stance on the “One China Policy.” The foreign minister added that Bangladesh shares the goal of an Indo-Pacific region that is open, free, secure, and inclusive, founded on international law, with shared prosperity for all.

Expectations from the New ambassador

In order to give the bilateral ties a positive direction and establish a strong rapport with Bangladesh, Ambassador Li Jiming accomplished an outstanding job. Bangladesh has enough reasons to thank Li Jiming. Bangladesh does, however, also anticipate that the momentum of the Bangladesh-China relationship would continue thriving further in the days to come. The incoming Chinese ambassador in Dhaka is expected to comprehend Bangladesh from his own perspective.

The outing Chinese ambassador expressed optimism that the Rohingyas will begin to return home by the next year. The new envoy can play an instrumental role to find a sustainable and dignified solution that will work for both the host and Rohingya communities. It is important to note that more than 1.2 million Rohingya have been generously hosted by Bangladesh. A country with 166 million people that is already overpopulated has been greatly impacted socioeconomically by these refugees. The Centre for Policy Dialogue estimates that it will cost about  $7 billion to accommodate and support the Rohingyas in Bangladesh for the first five years before repatriation. 

The new envoy has numerous opportunities to improve current bilateral ties. In 2026, Bangladesh is expected to leave the Least Developed Country (LDC) category. Bangladesh’s access to various LDC-specific preferential treatments and facilities will be restricted as a result, which will negatively affect its exports to European and North American markets, particularly those of RMG. The new ambassador could support Bangladesh in this area by offering technical assistance in formulating policies and export-development strategies that would enable Bangladeshi products to enter the Chinese market to meet its post-graduation hurdles.

Bangladesh expects increased FDI from China to help the economy of the nation. Chinese direct investment in Bangladesh has increased by 300 percent, and through the Belt and Road Initiative, China has pledged to invest more than $40 billion in joint ventures and infrastructure projects. These investments will greatly assist the Bangladeshi government by energizing economic activity, generating employment, boosting assets, and improving people’s quality of life through the development of infrastructure. The incoming Chinese ambassador must be aware of Bangladesh’s development priorities and work closely with that nation.

Advanced studies and enhanced cooperation are required in order to advance the Global Development Initiative (GDI), zero-tariff treatment to 99 percent of Bangladeshi exports to China, Bangladesh-China FTA, the taka-renminbi currency swap, promotion of the MoU on the Special Assistance Plan for Disaster Prevention and Mitigation and common development of Bangladesh-China economy. The new envoy can play a crucial role in these areas.

Along with upholding international diplomatic standards, the ambassador is also expected to expedite ties in the fields of technology, renewable energy, and educational scholarships. There are certain areas where the relationship between the two nations needs to be improved, including trade trips, cultural exchanges, and people-to-people connections. Without a doubt, the incoming envoy’s friendly efforts will have a significant impact on whether all of these goals are realized. Bangladesh, therefore, expects China to send a seasoned and competent diplomat who will “elevate” the two nations’ relationship to a “new height”.

Ali Akbar Rouf is a PhD researcher on South Asian Politics and Political economy in Boston University, UK. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. 

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