- Lt Col (Retd) Md Shahadat Hossain
A Chinese delegation, led by Mr. Chen Wenqin, the deputy secretary general of Fujian Provincial Committee of Communist Party of China, is in Bangladesh for a scheduled goodwill visit to maintain and strengthen further the relations between Bangladesh and China. In the same way, many other delegations also visited periodically in the past while Bangladeshi counterparts also visit China for the same purpose. Such high level visits not only help leaders of both the countries to understand each other country’s need and expectations but also develop mutual confidence to support each other.
The visiting delegation has already expressed their interests to Bangladeshi President Mr. Zillur Rahman at Bangabhaban on 25th June 2012. During the meeting, the leader of the delegation Mr. Chen Wenqin not only expressed Bangladesh as one of their neighboring countries which had been enjoying excellent relations but also emphasized, as quoted by UNB, that “China is keen to expand its relations of cooperation with Bangladesh alongside expanding trade, investment and commercial activities which China has long been working to this end.” Referring to the last visit of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister to China and Chinese Vice President’s visit to Bangladesh, President Zillur Rahman said the relations between two countries have further been strengthened after these state visits.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping stressed during his last visit to Bangladesh the need for exchanging visits at the political level between two countries. Besides, during the visit of Bangladeshi Prime Minister to China in early 2010, her counterpart Chinese Premier Mr. Wen Jiabao also hoped two countries would enhance cooperation. Mr. Wen hoped that two nations would enhance high level and cultural exchanges. Bangladeshi Prime Minister in return expressed that her country would work with China to promote cooperation in agriculture, tourism and infrastructure construction, and to enhance coordination in major international and regional issues.
Efforts are being undertaken every day to strengthen the relationship between Bangladesh and China. Many trade, cultural, sports and other delegations, both governmental and private sectors, are often visiting both the countries. But the main interest, the increase of trade volume in favor of Bangladesh, is yet to be satisfactory, mainly when it relates to the trade deficit between both the countries. Well, China is a big nation and often called the manufacturer of the enter world and as such her export to Bangladesh would be larger in volume than importing from Bangladesh. However, as the population of China is also large so the domestic market is also of equally large size. There are many Bangladeshi products which may be exported to Chinese market. According to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), during fiscal year 2010-11 Bangladesh exported goods worth US $ 319 million to China while imported goods worth US $ 5918 million from China. According to Financial Express dated 30th April 2012, local Chinese embassy at Dhaka took the initiative to promote Bangladesh’s export to China to help reduce the huge trade imbalance of US $ 5.6 billion between the two countries. So far china offered zero-tariff facility to 95% products of the least developed countries (LDCs) since July 2010 which may even be increased to 97% under the Hong Kong declaration of Doha round under the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Bangladesh is currently exporting mainly traditional goods to China. Again, according to Dr. Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow at the centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) which was quoted in Financial expressed dated 30th April 2012, “Bangladesh’s capacity has now become limited, as those products are also being exported to the US, the EU and even India. So, Bangladesh has to find out new products, especially inter-industry products to enjoy benefits of the zero tariff treatment in the Chinese market”. Well, these measures would definitely contribute to reduce the trade imbalance in the long run but the most important point to note is that, despite percentage of zero tariffs the Chinese consumers or in other words their market demand would decide the real imports from Bangladesh. Bangladeshi products must have to be according to the need and test of Chinese people. Here I remember the voice of Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji during his visit to Bangladesh in January 2002 where he expressed casually during the state banquet at Hotel Sonargaon, the pan pacific chain hotel, to his Bangladeshi counterpart that Chinese government really hopes the Bangladeshi export to china to increase and they would take all possible measures to support that but the fact is Chinese people got to like Bangladeshi products too. He then advised so that the qualities of Bangladeshi products are also increased according to the test of Chinese people to attract the Chinese market or Chinese importers. I being the official interpreter between two prime ministers was the single listener of this casual dinner talks which now, after more than ten years, I feel to be really true.
The big question at this stage is how to improve the Bangladeshi products according to the test of Chinese people? The best would be if Chinese manufacturers would relocate their factories to Bangladesh to take advantage of cheap labor cost or would make fresh investment in Bangladesh. The manufactured goods, according to the test of Chinese people, would then possibly be imported by China from Bangladesh. This is possibly the single possible practical way of reducing the trade imbalance between both countries. However, few more key supportive measures, yes they may be called key supportive measures, are also identified by talking to many Chinese and Bangladeshi business personnel. Five Key supportive measures mentioned below may directly as well as indirectly help Bangladesh to achieve that single possible practical way with a view to reduce the huge trade imbalance between Bangladesh and China:
1. The measures in terms of improving the communications may be placed the highest importance so that peoples to peoples contacts between Bangladesh and China are increased continuously. Presently there are two direct air links (Dhaka-Kunming and Dhaka-Guangzhou) between Bangladesh and China but more direct air routes may also be operated between both countries so that more and more people from both the countries may visit each others’ easily. Besides, the long desired and often discussed land route between Chittagong and Kunming through Myanmar may also be constructed as priority for increasing the physical economic activities between both the countries in a cheaper way.
2. Promoting each other’s language in both the countries should be encouraged by the government machineries as well as private sectors of both the countries. The language barriers are one of the impediments to increase the economic activities as desired. Though many Bangladeshi people are learning Chinese language at Dhaka as well as from main land China but the same response is not visible where similar numbers of Chinese people are learning Bengali language. Though it may always be argued that the nature would take its own course but the government initiatives in this regard may gear up this process. If the language gap between people of these two nations can be reduced then the “peoples to peoples contact” between both nations would definitely increase resulting the desired increase of all other activities. India, in this regard has taken the appropriate steps much before. Recognizing the growing economic influence of China and side by side realizing the importance of Chinese language in future days, the Indian Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has decided to introduce Mandarin Chinese in schools starting from class VI from 2011-12 sessions. The Board has already written to its affiliated schools giving them the option to take up the course. It would be beneficial for students to learn Chinese language as it would open up lots of opportunities. Dr Sreemati Chakrabarti, an expert on China and a professor in the department of East Asian Studies in Delhi University, once said, "We have been getting 700-800 applications for just 100 seats in the last few years." She further explained, "China today is the largest trading partner of a large number of countries. Chinese companies are setting up businesses in different countries where they look for locals who know their language. So the job opportunities are enormous." "China is the fastest growing economy in the world so we thought it would be beneficial for students to learn the language as it opens up a lot of opportunities," said CBSE chairperson Vineet Joshi, according to The times of India dated 05 December 2010.
According to most of the news papers of Bangkok dated 24 June 2012, Thailand requested Chinese educational institutes to send 10,000 Chinese language instructors for Thai learners as parts of a Sino-Thai educational and cultural exchange plan. Back in 2002, Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) and Assumption University of Thailand (AU) co-founded the Beijing Language and Culture University Bangkok College to meet the demand for learning the Chinese language of Thai business community. It mainly cultivates Chinese Language Undergraduate with the direction of economic and trade and it is the Chinese-language higher college which provides degree programs in Thailand. The Bangkok School also offers Chinese language teacher training courses, workshops and other forms of short-term Chinese language training courses. Since July 2005, Bangkok University became a HSK (Hanyu xueping kaoshi or the Chinese proficiency test) test center in eastern Thailand which was commissioned by China National Office for Teaching Chinese as Foreign Language. At present, the Bangkok College has set the cultivation of Chinese language professional (economic orientation) undergraduate students as the main educational goals. It also established comprehensive, multi-level mode on the development of master's and doctoral education and Chinese language teacher training courses.
A simple browsing of available online information related to learning Chinese language in other Asian countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar etc would help anyone to understand the increased trend of learning Chinese language in the present days. "We are neighbors with China and we share very close relations. Yet, because of language barriers there lies a hindrance for the people of both the countries to explore new arenas of friendship," said Ashis Luitel, a Chinese language student in Nepal. Huo Jiangao, a Chinese national and Head of the Chinese volunteer teachers in Nepal, told Xinhua back in Mar 8, 2011 that he has taught Chinese to more than 10,000 Nepali people since 2005. According to Sri Lanka Broad casting Corporation dated 24 April 2012, Minister of Education Bandula Gunawardena informed that Chinese language will be added to the curriculum for GCE O-Level and A- Level students. Accordingly, plans are underway to train Chinese language teachers. The minister said that Chinese government grant would be required for human and physical resources for this purpose. The aim of this move is to further strengthen the close relationship between Sri Lanka and China. The minister made these remarks participating awarding ceremony of Chinese language course conducted by the Confucius Centre in Colombo.
The situation for Bangladesh and China may be the same or more attractive due to many obvious reasons. That is why, now is the high time, if not late already, for the concern authorities and leaders of both the nations to realize as well as emphasize the importance of mass learning of each other’s language in a faster speed.
3. This year, the year 2012 both the countries would mark the 37th anniversary of Bangladesh China relationship. In celebration of this auspicious event Bangladesh may take the initiative to invite Chinese President for visiting Bangladesh. Though Chinese Prime Ministers have visited Bangladesh in the past but so far no Chinese President has ever visited Bangladesh. The presence of the Chinese President to any nation is always being followed by remarkable economic initiatives and packages which were noticed from the examples of such visits to different parts of the world, especially to African and other developing countries. In the same way, Bangladeshi president may also visit China to reciprocate. Appropriate diplomatic initiatives for inviting Chinese President may be under taken and perused by the ministry of foreign affairs of Bangladesh.
4. Bangladesh is all through inviting foreign investors due to many good reasons though the result is not as expected. The lack of basic infrastructural facilities, mainly the electricity and gas, are the main hindrance to any foreign investor. It is known to many that the labor costs in china has increased in many folds and as such many Chinese manufacturers are interested to relocate their existing manufacturing facilities to country like Bangladesh, Vietnam, African nations, etc places where the labor forces are still relatively cheaper. Under this situation, Bangladesh may take the initiative to allow and arrange a separate place or even number of places where only Chinese manufacturers may invest and start the manufacturing. We all know that Bangladesh has already allowed for a separate Korean EPZ for Korean investors. Whether we call it “Chinese EPZ” or “China Town” hardly matters but the arrangements should be as such so that Chinese investors get the proper environment according to their need to invest in Bangladesh in a larger way. Here Chinese government may take the aggressive initiative to assist Bangladesh to prepare such exclusive places for Chinese investors.
Bangladesh may provide the suitable land and other investment friendly policies including labor forces while China may develop the total infrastructural facilities including self generated electricity and other requirements. Within the complex there may also be one Chinese language learning teaching center so that Bangladeshi workers may learn workable Chinese language to support the Chinese investors properly. Such Chinese language teaching centers may also prepare Bangladeshi workers in such a way so that they may also be employed inside China to support local chinese manufacturers to save their labor costs too. China has assisted Bangladesh in the past for constructing number of friendship bridges which involved large amount of financial support. The same assistances are continuing until now. So, in addition to those or even instead of those assistances, considering the need of the time, Chinese government may assist Bangladesh to develop total infrastructural facilities suitable for Chinese investors. China should do that as special assistance to Bangladesh and also for their future need too. Such initiatives would ultimately reduce the bilateral trade gap between Bangladesh and china.
5. Getting Chinese VISA is very difficult at the moment. Interested visitors may get Chinese VISA only after fulfilling many requirements which is indeed not tourist friendly. The applicant must obtain invitation from local Chinese authorities of mainland China to apply for VISA. Many interested people of Bangladesh are unable to explore business opportunities only because they are unable to visit China freely. There is hearsay on the air that in the past some few thousands Bangladeshi people have gone to china but didn’t return back to Bangladesh according to the immigration statistics of China. But there is also other hearsay on the air that possibly those few thousands Bangladeshi visitors have somehow managed to go out of China through Siberian borders illegally with the aim of some other destinations. That means in reality there are no illegal Bangladeshi immigrants inside China. If that is so, then what is the problem? Those who had the chance to visit China would possibly agree that under the existing security and surveillance arrangements of China it is really not possible to stay there continuously as illegal immigrants. People of Bangladesh and China are indeed very friendly. That is why Bangladesh government is maintaining very easy procedures of VISA for Chinese friends. So, considering the importance of “peoples to peoples contacts”, It would be better if the local Chinese embassy in Bangladesh could offer tourist friendly VISA to interested Bangladeshi friends. More visits by more Bangladeshi people at private level would definitely contribute more for the promotion of economic and trade activities between both nations.
The huge trade imbalance between Bangladesh and China can not of course be reduced over night but may not be like a far dream too considering the potential huge scopes of mutual cooperation between both countries. It is expected that concern authorities of both the nations would pay attention to above mentioned “Supportive key Measures” and take appropriate as well as immediate steps to improve the economic and trade situation between Bangladesh and China.
(The writer is a freelance researcher and contributor of Bangladesh-China Relations who not only speaks Chinese but have had visited China many times since 1988 and thus have some background knowledge about Bangladesh China affairs. zhongmeng.shahadat[at]gmail.com).