China is looking to implement several new projects in Bangladesh as a number of mega projects that it has been involved in will reach completion this year, Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming said.
"A lot of new projects are coming. I am not going to announce anything before time because I have to wait for those to be finalised," Li Jiming said at the "Spring Dialogue with China" organised by the Embassy of China in a city hotel on Sunday.
At the discussion, co-organised by The Business Standard and the Diplomatic Correspondents' Association of Bangladesh (DCAB), the Chinese ambassador also said there could be a significant development to the repatriation of the displaced people from Myanmar's Rakhine state this year.
He said his country is working to facilitate repatriation of these displaced people.
"I think some progress has been made. But unfortunately, there is no significant, officially organised repatriation yet. Hopefully, this year we will achieve that," he said.
The Chinese ambassador also touched upon a range of issues, including the Ukraine war.
On the topic of brand new investments, the envoy said the Bangladesh government had made a few proposals, some of which had already been approved by the Chinese government.
"For example, another Bangladesh-China Friendship Bridge project is under discussion and will be finalised soon, which is a gift from the Chinese government to the Bangladeshi people like the previous eight [bridges]," he added.
The Chinese envoy further said at the moment China had more than $10 billion in multiple government projects in Bangladesh.
"Last year, we witnessed that Chinese investment in Bangladesh was more than 300%, which is quite significant. Chinese investors are quite confident about the investment environment of Bangladesh. Bangladesh's infrastructure is also improving," he said.
He expressed optimism that implementation of new projects could begin as early as this year.
"We have proposed a PPP [Public Private Partnership] agreement between the two governments … The draft of the document is almost completed. Now, we are waiting for the final approval from the Bangladesh government."
He said the basket of big projects would involve private sector actors from China and bring huge investments for Bangladesh, especially in the manufacturing industries.
Li Jiming, in the discussion moderated by TBS Editor Inam Ahmed, also said a number of mega projects would be completed this year, including the Padma Bridge project, Karnaphuli tunnel, 8th Bangladesh-China Friendship Bridge, Dasherkandi Sewage Treatment Plant and some other power and rail projects.
At the same time, the ambassador also highlighted the reasons behind the delays in implementation of some Chinese projects, while allaying fears of a possible debt trap.
He blamed three factors for the delays and the increased costs: problems related to customs clearance, logistical issues compounded by the pandemic, and land acquisitions.
"Land acquisition is a headache for every single project. I hope this kind of problem will be solved in future…because it will be a big problem for any industrialisation attempt."
Bringing up the topic of the debt trap which can be heard in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, he said that China accounted for only 5% of debt in terms of Bangladesh's GDP. "If you call that a debt trap, I don't have anything to say," he said.
Asked if China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was losing momentum, Li Jiming brushed off the fears by pointing out that 10 new countries had joined the BRI and rail connectivity had already expanded to some countries, including Laos and Indonesia.
Highlighting the initiatives in this regard with Bangladesh, he said, "We have ideas for upcoming rail projects in Chattogram and Dhaka. China is interested in this," adding that he was not sure of Bangladesh's position in this matter.
Rohingya repatriation may start this year
"We have some working mechanisms as previously disclosed to the Bangladesh media. But this time, whatever the parties or consensus, before anything is completely achieved, we should not disclose any details," said Li Jiming.
"So unfortunately, I can't give you more information about it. The only thing I can give you right now is [that] China is making all due efforts to help and to speed up the process of early repatriation."
The Chinese envoy said, "Rohingya repatriation will be safe, dignified and sustainable based on the voluntariness of those displaced people. That is something I can guarantee."
He further said the Chinese government provided more than Tk10 million in medical equipment for the Rohingya community.
China wants a peaceful resolution of Ukraine war
Like Bangladesh, China has also made its position very clear about the situation in Ukraine and would like to see a peaceful resolution to the "dispute or conflict between two friends of China."
"We are ready to facilitate any peace talks or resolutions. The Chinese president has talked with the Russian president to go to the negotiation table and the Chinese foreign minister also talked with his Russian counterpart," Chinese Ambassador Li Jiming said.
The ambassador said there were countries which were trying to douse the flames of the war while some countries were fanning it. "We should put water…and solve this problem with a rational, cool head, not [take up] an emotional attitude towards the issue," he said.
On the parallels between the issues of Ukraine and Taiwan, the ambassador said, "I have to make it crystal clear that the Taiwan question and the Ukraine issue are two different questions by nature. They are not comparable.
"The Taiwan issue is the result of a civil war in China. Therefore, the Taiwan issue is a domestic or internal issue of China. The one China principle has been universally recognised by almost every country in the world."
He said any parallels are an attempt to exploit the Ukrainian issue in terms of Taiwan.
The ambassador, however, said the use of force for the Taiwan issue was a last resort.
Asked about The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), Li Jiming said the IPS was promoted by the US as being for peace and freedom in the Indo-Pacific region, but the actions instead of the wordings of the relevant parties made it clear that QUAD was against China.
"They know it is against China. And they know that we know…so obviously we are not very happy to see the actions to form small blocs specifically designated for specific targets when China happens to be the specific target," he said.
He also said there was a huge risk of nuclear proliferation in this region, which was not good for any country in the region.
"I hope that Bangladesh will take a wise decision towards all of those mechanisms," he said, adding that Bangladesh's policy of "Friendship to all, malice for none" was something he had faith in.
The ambassador also addressed the Uighur issue, saying the United Nations would be given full access to Xinjiang region to get rid of any threats of trade sanctions.
"How big is the population of Muslims in China? China has more than 26 million Muslims living in China. Why would only a particular one million be targeted by the government?
"We are concentrating on the Uyghur people, but what is their population? It is 12 million. When we talk about Uyghur people, we are talking about 12 million, not 1 million. So why would the government particularly hate 1 million Uyghur people there [in Xinjiang]," he said.
On the allegations of concentration camps for Uyghurs, the ambassador said he too was surprised.
"We found that there is a so-called research institute based in Germany. There is a specific German scholar, or researcher, who claims himself as a China-observer. Just this one person. He spread all those lies and claimed that one million Uighurs were in concentration camps," he said.
He also said that China had sued the institute and the scholar over the allegations.
He also said the research institute was funded by someone in the US.
The ambassador also said that Xinjiang was very close to Afghanistan, which explained the focus on it.
"The Xinjiang issue has nothing to do with religion, human issues or genocides. It has everything to do with separatists, terrorists and interest from outside," he said.
China has no military project in Bangladesh
Chinese Ambassador Li Jiming said China will not build any military facility or bases on any foreign territory.
He said this in response to questions following a report published by Nikke Asia which claimed that China was setting up a missile maintenance hub in Bangladesh.
On the hub itself, he said, "I have no specific information about any missile maintenance project…I can't formally confirm this information. I have to check but I can confirm that China will not build military facilities in any other territories, that's for sure."
The Nikke Asia report had sent alarm bells ringing in India. Citing an unnamed Bangladeshi diplomat, the report further said that the deal was not publicised to avoid Western scrutiny and the Ukraine-Russia conflict had complicated plans to make a formal announcement.
China likely to resume visas for Bangladeshi student
China is set to resume visas for Bangladeshi students, the Chinese ambassador confirmed at the discussion on Sunday.
"For the students, I'm very glad to share that Bangladesh has been shortlisted for a pilot programme for international students. It is not a long list, it's a very short list," Ambassador Li Jiming said.
He, however, said that the Covid-19 pandemic was in a resurgence which made it difficult to bring all the students back to China.
The ambassador also acknowledged that Bangladesh had closed all air links during the height of the pandemic, except for the one with China.
He also said that he had personally signed many business visas during the pandemic, adding that businessmen only had to comply with the quarantine policy to get a visa for China.
The tourist visas, however, will remain suspended for the time being, he said.