New prospects for further strengthening Dhaka-Beijing cooperation

Despite the coronavirus pandemic-- COVID-19, Bangladesh has continued its economic growth while the economies of almost all other countries are staggering to return to normalcy. The world economy is feared to shrink by over 5 percent this year. But the Bangladesh economy has grown by 5.24 percent during 2019-20, the fiscal year ending in June, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). 

Though Bangladesh has witnessed ups and downs in its economic sectors like exports of Readymade Garments (RMG), and inflows of remittances, resulting in huge unemployment in the country, its economy has demonstrated constant resilience and got back to pre-pandemic levels. The country has, therefore, maintained its growth belying all outlooks predicted by global economic institutions including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. 

The secret to maintaining the growth of Bangladesh’s economy is timely measures taken by the government under the prudent leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Just as the Prime Minister has led Bangladesh to enter the list of middle-income countries, so has ridden out the crisis caused by the devastating pandemic faster than any other countries. Thanks to this magical lady, the people of Bangladesh now dare to dream of becoming a developed nation by 2041. 

However, Bangladesh must walk a long way ahead for materializing the dream. The country has to maintain over 8 percent growth of its GDP in the years to come. Economists are of the view that Bangladesh, therefore, needs to diversify its export items and markets and find new markets abroad for its skilled and unskilled workforces. Furthermore, Bangladesh must continue its infrastructure development at the same pace it is now carrying out. For that, the country needs over $24 billion of investments in its infrastructure sectors every year, according to a report by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. 

Against such a backdrop, Bangladesh has locally and globally a lot of options and opportunities to get assistance on the way to its journey ahead. But China is always considered a better option for Bangladesh as Beijing is the largest trading and one of the major development partners of Dhaka. Sheikh Hasina has turned the bilateral ties between the two nations into a strategic partnership. Dhaka is also an important and active member of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of Beijing. 

In my eyes, Beijing’s decisions relating to cooperation with its partners always bring about some prospects for Dhaka and vice versa. Thus the decisions made by the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of (CCP) in its fifth plenum in Beijing last month created some new prospects for Bangladesh. Dhaka can further strengthen win-win cooperation with Beijing by exploiting the prospects. 

To go into more detail, the fifth plenum has finalized the 14th Five-Year Plan, envisioning the economic and social policy of China for the period from 2021-2025. The plan has emphasized ‘dual circulation’, a new term coined by President Xi Jinping. The term is a combination of ‘domestic cycle’ and ‘international cycle’. The domestic cycle’ -- internal production and consumption-- will be the main focus for the next five-year and complemented by the ‘international cycle’-- foreign trade and investment. 

As a result, China will open its domestic markets more for foreign nations and Bangladesh can diversify its export items to Chinese markets. Beijing’s ‘domestic cycle’ policy has put Dhaka in a more convenient place as some 97 percent of its products—a total of 8,256 items-- already enjoy duty-free access in the Chinese market. Bangladesh can also benefit from the ‘international cycle’ by incurring more investments from China in its vibrating infrastructure sectors, which is a must for becoming a developed country by the deadline. 

The plenum has also raised a set of long-range objectives for China to achieve socialist modernization by 2035. China plans to increase its per capita GDP to the level of moderately developed countries by the time. To achieve the objectives, China has pledged to significantly reduce the earnings gaps between rural and urban residents, and reiterated a long-standing focus on ‘new urbanization’. The country will also focus on environmental issues, quality innovation, and technologies. China will continue to expand openness, strengthen cooperation under the BRI, and share development opportunities with the world.

Bangladesh can join hands with China in its journey to become a moderately developed country. Both nations have common challenges and prospects in their trajectories towards development. I think the plans and objectives set by the plenum are also similarly significant for Bangladesh. That’s why the two countries can forge ahead with the policy of win-win bilateral cooperation under the BRI for realizing their dreams of making it to the list of the developed nations.

-    The author is a Bangladeshi journalist and columnist now based in Beijing, China.