Bangladesh asks China for help in repatriating Rohingya refugees

During the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Bangladesh has sought China’s cooperation in repatriating Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.

China used its influence in Myanmar in a November 2017 deal to repatriate some 700,000 Rohingya who fled persecution in Myanmar in August that year.

Despite efforts to repatriate them, the refugees refuse due to fear of danger in Myanmar, which has increased since the military takeover last year.

Wang arrived in Dhaka on Saturday and met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen. Before leaving on Sunday, they discussed bilateral and global issues, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Shahryar Alam said.

Bangladesh has strong ties with China, a major trading partner mainly for raw materials. But maintaining close ties with Beijing remains a challenge for Bangladesh, which balances diplomatic and trade ties with China’s arch-rivals India and the United States.

More than 500 Chinese companies are active in Bangladesh. China is involved in all the country’s major infrastructure projects such as ports, a river tunnel and highways, and helped build the largest bridge over the Padma River at a cost of $3.6 billion.

Thousands of Rohingyas are taking shelter in the Cox’s Bazar area of ​​Bangladesh, the world’s largest refugee camp [File: Tanbir Miraj/AFP]

Amid recent tensions between China and Taiwan, Bangladesh issued a statement reiterating its support for the “one-China” policy.

After winning elections in 2008, Hasina’s administration closed Taiwan’s trade representative office in Dhaka in response to China’s request, and China has since increased its involvement in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s garment industry, which earns more than 80 percent of its foreign exchange through exports, is heavily dependent on China for raw materials.

Wang said during a courtesy call on Hasina on Sunday that his country considers Bangladesh a “strategic development partner” and will continue to support it, presidential press secretary Ihsanul Karim said.

The United News of Bangladesh Agency reported that Wang pledged to stand by Bangladesh “on all issues on the international stage”.

State news agency Bangladesh Samvad Sanstha reported that Hasina raised global tensions over the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions against Moscow, saying, “People [across the world] South Asia, Southeast Asia and China can work together for economic progress.

Alam said Wang agreed to increase trade benefits by increasing the current 97 percent duty-free access of Bangladeshi products and services from the Chinese market to 98 percent.

“This is good news for Bangladesh as we have a thriving export-based economy,” Alam said. “Now they have offered another 1 per cent from September 1,” he said, adding that the new tax benefit is likely to include garments, knitwear and other products that faced some hurdles earlier.

He said that Bangladesh will soon receive a list of products and services from China that will get duty-free access.

Alam said Wang explained to the Bangladesh foreign minister that “some countries misunderstand and misinterpret China”. He did not give detailed information.

But Momen told reporters separately that the Chinese minister referred to a section of the Taiwanese people as being provoked against China’s sovereignty. Beijing considers autonomous Taiwan as its own territory.

The junior minister said China has pledged to continue working to resolve the Rohingya crisis, and Wang says Myanmar’s internal challenges are troubling other countries.

“Our foreign minister strongly reiterated the need for China’s cooperation. China has made progress to resolve the Rohingya issue and we need to end the situation,” Alam said.

On Sunday, Bangladesh and China signed or renewed four agreements and memorandums of understanding on disaster management, infrastructure and cultural exchange.

Analyst Munshi Faiz Ahmed, who served as Bangladesh’s ambassador to Beijing, said Wang’s visit was significant for both countries.

“Bangladesh needs China’s support to resolve the Rohingya crisis. The visit will help strengthen bilateral ties,” Ahmed told The Associated Press.

“China is very important to us. We need to maintain good relations with both India and America as they are also very important development partners of Bangladesh. Bangladesh has nothing to fear as it has close ties with China,” he said.

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