China a reliable partner of Bangladesh in corona fight

Md Enamul Hassan 

Like in many other countries around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic is taking its toll on human health in Bangladesh. A total of 126,600 people had been infected and some 1,621 died of the coronavirus as of Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The number of infections in the country has already surpassed the figure of China.

Apart from hitting its already-weak health system hard, the pandemic has also caused a devastating economic crisis in Bangladesh. It has upended the economic order of the country by creating a vast number of unemployment and decreasing record amount of foreign exchange earnings. 

Up until the crisis, Bangladesh had been growing close to eight percent a year on average over the past decade. But the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has now forecasted only six percent growth of the country for 2020-21, two percent lower than last year. 

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), a total of 85.1 percent of the workforce are employed in the informal sector which is about more than 50 million people. They have been the worst victims of Covid-19. Because the pandemic has rendered 80 percent workers unemployed in the informal sector which is around 40 million people. 

About 10 million Bangladeshis are working abroad. Due to serious economic slowdown all over the world, many of them are returning back home and most of those who are stuck up at home can't go back to their host countries. As a result, the number of jobless people is shooting up in Bangladesh. Last year, the expatriates sent home more than $18 billion as remittances. But the World Bank expects remittances to drop to about $14 billion this year. 

The Readymade Garments (RMG) generates close to $30 billion in exports accounting for 83 percent of total exports and 14 percent of GDP. More than four million workers are engaged in the RMG industry. Now the industry is in deep crisis because of the pandemic. The industry has received work order cancellations of nearly $3 billion. It will affect around two million workers, while one million have already got unemployed. Thus the pandemic has caused a huge number of unemployment and decreased about 25 percent of foreign exchange earnings which is more than $4 billion.

Against such backdrops, the China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has emerged as one of the major determinative forces to Bangladesh that joined the initiative in 2016. Ever since the coronavirus was first reported in Bangladesh on March 8, under the BRI cooperation, China has simultaneously been helping Bangladesh overcome health and economic crises.

China donated 30,500 rapid detection reagents, 70,000 medical protective gowns, 1,300,000 surgical masks, 50,000 N95 masks, and 50,000 goggles to Bangladesh. The Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation also donated 30,000 test reagents and 300,000 masks. The Bangladesh-China Business and Industry Association donated 10,000 surgical masks to fight the epidemic. Besides, many Chinese enterprises and companies working in Bangladesh have assisted the country to curb the epidemic.

Lately, a 10-member team of Chinese medical experts visited Bangladesh. In their two-week stay in Bangladesh, the experts visited designated hospitals, quarantine centers, and testing centers. They shared their experiences with Bangladeshi counterparts and made calibrated propositions for containment and treatment of the pandemic during the visit. The Chinese government has also said as a BRI nation Bangladesh will get priority, if China can successfully develop a vaccine for the coronavirus.

In order to recover from the economic crisis, China has offered zero tariff treatment to 97 percent of Bangladesh’s exports by adding 5161 more items to the existing list of 3095 duty-free products, effective from July 1st, said Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka Li Jiming in an article. This is really a piece of good news for Bangladesh. Because if the country can avail of the opportunity, its export items will be diversified resulting in creation of a vast number of jobs and huge amount of foreign exchange earnings. 

Economists are of the view that for taping the opportunity, Bangladesh needs a sizable amount of investment in its infrastructure sectors. Under the BRI cooperation, China has pledged to invest more than $38 billion in Bangladesh. And the country has already invested more than $26 billion in different projects in Bangladesh. The projects have created a significant number of jobs. And their fruitions are expected to contribute to at least one and a half percent growth of the GDP.

Moreover, while Westerners have left Bangladesh one by one during this hardest time of the pandemic, Chinese companies remain here to keep the works of mega projects running smoothly. Thus they are contributing to minimising the impacts of Covid-19 on the overall socio-economic development of Bangladesh. 

This is how the BRI is contributing to boosting the response capacity of Bangladesh in their fight against the coronavirus. The China-led initiative is also helping the South Asian nation to recover from the serious economic crisis caused by Covid-19. 

The author is the China Correspondent of the Bangladesh Post.