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China makes strategic forays into Bangladesh

By The Assam Tribune

Dhaka, June 15 (IANS): In another sign of its growing strategic inroads into South Asia, China has proposed to help Bangladesh build a deep-sea port in Chittagong and agreed to exchange data about the Brahmaputra river that flows from Tibet to Bangladesh through India. China has also promised assistance in installing Bangladesh's first space satellite.

All these issues came up on Monday during talks between visiting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinpeng and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina which covered cooperation on political, economic and cultural fronts, The Daily Star newspaper reported.

Bangladesh officials said Xi's was a "return visit" to the one paid by Hasina in March this year and would see updating on the pacts signed then. Hasina had travelled to China, seeking closer cooperation in a number of areas, including building a road link from Chittagong to Kunming in eastern China.

According to strategic analysts, the port development in Chittagong is part of China's "String of Pearls" strategy that it wants to use to secure sea lanes that cross the Indian Ocean and link its industrialized eastern seaboard with the energy resources of the Middle East.

China has been developing ports in Gwadar, Pakistan, and at Hambantota in Sri Lanka. It has expanded its influence in Myanmar in recent years.

This is the first visit by a Chinese state leader since the Awami League-led government assumed power in January last year. Xi is leading a 35-member delegation and will sign an agreement regarding economic cooperation, under which China will provide 40 million yuan ($5.8 million) as grant.

Over the past few years, China has emerged as the largest supplier of military hardware to Bangladesh.

China has also replaced India as Bangladesh's biggest import destination with trade between the two nations standing at $4.58 billion, though heavily skewed in favour of Beijing with Bangladesh import being $ 4.4 billion.

China offered last month duty-free access to some 5,000 Bangladeshi products in a "goodwill gesture".

Bilateral trade between Bangladesh and China is expected to increase to $5 billion in 2010 from $4.58 billion in 2009.

Interestingly, China had opposed Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan in 1971 and recognized it only in 1975.

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