“Wealth is not a friend, but a friend is wealth”: Ambassador Li Jiming
A seasoned diplomat, prolific writer, and columnist Ambassador Li Jiming has been serving as the Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh since 2019. The Ambassador has been writing a series of articles in different dailies and weeklies on many issues like good governance, technology, environment, historical aspects, cyber-security, terrorism, racism, china's position on the role of the United Nations in international affairs and multilateralism and china's contribution to the world peace and development. A down-to-earth accessible to the people, suave and soft-spoken Ambassador was born in Baoshan, Yunnan province of China. He has worked in many countries in different categories. He has dealt at length on the bilateral relationship between China and Bangladesh with The Security World.
In regards to current relations between Bangladesh and China, the Ambassador stated that since diplomatic relations established nearly half a century ago, the two countries have always treated each other as genuine and trusted friends. When President Xi Jinping held talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during his state visit to Bangladesh in 2016, the two leaders agreed to upgrade China-Bangladesh relations to Strategic Partnership of Cooperation.
Ambassador Li Jiming
This year, mutual trust between the two countries has been further deepened. President Xi and Prime Minister Hasina exchanged video messages on important occasions, such as Bangabandhu’s birth centenary and 50th independence anniversary of Bangladesh, and the centennial commemoration of the Communist Party of China. The Honorable President Mr. Md. Abdul Hamid met with China’s Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe who came to visit Bangladesh in spite of the severe pandemic. Our Foreign Ministers Mr. Wang Yi and Dr. AK Abdul Momen have been keeping close interaction by means of in-person meetings, phone calls and letters.
The fight against the COVID-19 pandemic brings about new opportunity to strengthen our bilateral relations. When China suffered from the first strike of pandemic early last year, Bangladesh lent its support to China without hesitation. China cherishes this cordial friendship and expresses its gratitude in action.
By far, China has provided anti-pandemic aid to Bangladesh in terms of sending medical supplies and vaccines as gifts, dispatching medical personnel, facilitating commercial procurement of vaccines, and most importantly, localizing production of Sinopharm vaccines. As far as I am informed, about 248 lakh doses of Sinopharm vaccines have arrived in Bangladesh. According to statistics by the Bangladeshi Government, Sinopharm vaccines champion among all brands of vaccines available in terms of inoculation centers.
The two countries also join hands tightly in the fight against the pandemic at regional levels. In April, foreign ministers of China, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka jointly held a video conference on COVID-19 initiated by China. On this occasion, the six countries agreed to set up a China-South Asia emergency supplies reserve, and a poverty reduction and development cooperation center, and holding a forum on rural e-commerce poverty reduction cooperation. We also offer mutual support on global issues such as origins-tracing of SARS-CoV-2 and equal access to vaccines.
The China-Bangladesh economic relationship serves as both the ballast and the propeller of the overall bilateral relationship. In July 2020, China started to offer zero-tariff treatment to 97 percent of Bangladesh’s export products to China. The two countries have overcome the impact of the pandemic to advance their cooperation projects under the BRI, such as the Padma Bridge and a multi-lane road tunnel under the Kanaphuli River. The first 660 megawatt unit 1 of the coal-fired Payra Power Plant has been completed and approved for operation in May 2020. In the past few months, I have witnessed progresses on several projects with Chinese companies participating in, such as the extension of runway at Cox’s Bazar Airport and the expansion and strengthening of power system network under DPDC area.
In defense areas, except for the visit by the Defense Minister, the People’s Liberation Army of China also provided vaccines and other medical items as gift to the Armed Forces of Bangladesh to ensure combat capability of the latter. The two sides keep close defense communication through online and offline channels.
On scientific cooperation, the promotion of Chinese hybrid rice in Bangladesh has contributed to the increase in food production in Bangladesh. It touches my heart that our Bangladeshi friends held solemn ceremonies in memory of the deceased Academician Mr Yuan Longping.
In respect of cultural exchange, what interests the kids most would be Shan Mao & Jimmy’s Magic Puzzle, a Chinese cartoon in Bangla recently broadcast on-air in RTV Panda Theater.
I am very glad to see the COVID-19 pandemic waning and economy reopening across Bangladesh. While keeping full alert to potential new wave of outbreaks, we shall focus on future-oriented and sustainable areas in light of Bangladesh’s coming graduation from LDC, such as diversification of industries, digital economy, blue economy and response to climate change.
As President Xi says, the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation and the dream of Sonar Bangla are interconnected. I see the two countries and two peoples as genuine friends, close partners, and companions on the way to a shared vision of prosperity. With joint efforts, our common dreams will definitely come true.
On the question of Bangladesh-China economic relations amid the Covid-19 pandemic and pre Covid-19 periods, the Ambassador mentioned that, China and Bangladesh have maintained frequent economic and trade exchanges and achieved remarkable economic and trade outcomes. In Particular, President Xi’s successful visit to Bangladesh in 2016 laid a solid foundation for further deepening economic and trade cooperation between the two countries.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China and Bangladesh have worked together to fight the pandemic and resume production. Remarkable progress has been made in pandemic prevention and control, vaccine cooperation, economic recovery and people’s well-being.
In terms of trade, China remains Bangladesh’s largest trading partner. A large number of goods imported from China are still the raw materials for Bangladeshi enterprises, especially textile enterprises. In terms of investment, China-invested projects in Bangladesh are under normal construction, among which some have been completed and put into commercial operation, such as the Payra Power Plant project. It shows that the enthusiasm of Chinese enterprises to participate in Bangladesh’s economic and social development has not subsided due to the impact of COVID-19. On the contrary, they have been working hard to make new breakthroughs, new highlights and new features of economic and trade cooperation under the COVID-19 pandemic.
As for G-to-G cooperation, China has not only provided Bangladesh with three batches of COVID-19 vaccines for free, but also carried out vaccine production cooperation to ensure Bangladeshi People of faster and better access to vaccines from China. China has also provided a large amount of medical equipment to Bangladesh, including ventilators, masks and PPE. Meanwhile, a series of major infrastructure projects are in full swing. Despite the impact of COVID-19, the Padma Bridge Project, the Padma Railway Link project and the Tunnel under the Kanaphuri River have all kept on working despite the pandemic, thanks to the joint efforts of the two governments.
Looking ahead, by expanding Chinese production and vaccination of Chinese vaccines in Bangladesh, Bangladesh’s economy and society will be more resilient against the pandemic, the economic and trade ties between China and Bangladesh will be tighter, and economic and trade exchanges between the two countries will be deeper and broader.
Replying a question on investment opportunities the Ambassad told The Security World that the vitality and huge potential of Bangladesh’s economy are attracting more and more Chinese investors to the country, ranging from manufacture industry to infrastructure area, in particular power and transportation sectors. Chinese investors have also engaged in the fields of finance, such as mobile payment and stock exchange. As a good neighbor, good friend and good partner of Bangladesh, China sees the high growth potential of Bangladesh in the future. Maintaining such growth requires timely development of infrastructure and further improvement of the investment environment. China will continue to promote the infrastructure in the region, while more and more Chinese investors will sincerely participate in the economic development of Bangladesh. At the same time, on economic and technological cooperation, China and Bangladesh have infinite potential to explore cooperation on ICT, response to climate change, poverty reduction, public health, blue economy, etc.
The Ambassador on the contentions issue of Rohingyas informed that Bangladesh’s Rohingya issue will it be a threat to regional and international security. The Rohingya issue is a bilateral issue between Bangladesh and Myanmar, which can find its roots in colonial history, religious discord and ethnic conflicts. Serving its own interests, Britain adopted the “divide and rule” policy when it controlled the Indian subcontinent, creating deep confrontations between different religions and ethnic groups in today’s Rakhine State. When Britain withdrew from Asia, this problem was left behind and even exacerbated on purpose, just like the one between Pakistan and India. Today, the Rohingya issue becomes increasingly non-negligible in Bangladesh-Myanmar relations, and is widely considered as one of the long-standing regional and international hotspot issues.
Despite its limited capacity and resources, Bangladesh still provides shelter to a vast number of the displaced people living in hardship in the settlement camps and longing to go home. This is an act of extraordinary humanitarianism. As of now, we have witnessed three major influxes of the displaced people from Myanmar into Bangladesh. Although the two friendly neighbors were able to achieve consensus and solve the problem to a large extent in the 1970s and 1990s, it was more complex and difficult this time due to the unprecedented scale of the influx and evolving situations. If the Rohingya issue is not addressed in a quick and proper manner, it will definitely threaten peace, stability and prosperity in the region, even beyond.
On the Rohingya issue, the international community should play a constructive role in seeking a durable solution to the Rohingya issue. China provides good office for the two countries, and has always held that the issue should be resolved peacefully through bilateral negotiation and consultation. Pressing any one side over another has not worked, nor will it ever do. Some countries are trying to fish in the trouble water even if they do not belong to this region, parties concerned on the Rohingya issue should remain vigilant to such intentions and actions.
The Ambassador informed that China has been playing an active role in resolving the Rohingya issue through consultations, making efforts on mediating and facilitating early repatriation. It demonstrates the strong determination of China to uphold peace and stability and to promote development and prosperity in this region.
China has been mediating between Bangladesh and Myanmar on various occasions and through different levels, trying its best to bring the two countries together in finding the way out. During his visit to Bangladesh in November 2017, Chinese Foreign Minister Mr Wang Yi proposed the three-phased solution to the problem, namely “cessation of violence, repatriation and development”, which has been welcomed by Bangladesh. In June and September of 2018, Mr. Wang held two rounds of informal meetings among China, Bangladesh and Myanmar, during which four-point principled common understandings were reached to seek proper settlement through bilateral negotiations between Bangladesh and Myanmar on the basis of the three-phased solution.
In March and August of 2019, Mr. Sun Guoxiang, the Special Envoy of Asian Affairs of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, visited Bangladesh twice to promote Bangladesh and Myanmar to further carry out cooperation in properly dealing with the issue of repatriation. The three parties also held a meeting at vice foreign minister level in January 2021 to accelerate the repatriation.
Especially in September 2019, during an informal meeting involving foreign ministers of China, Myanmar and Bangladesh at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York, the three parties agreed to establish the Bangladesh-China-Myanmar Joint Working Group Mechanism, which helped to forge a platform of consultation on a working level. Together with colleagues from Bangladesh and Myanmar, I joined the two meetings of the mechanism by far, which have efficiently proceeded on the concrete implementation of repatriation-related work. Before the meetings, I have visited the camps of displaced people in Cox’s Bazar for several times, talked with them and listen to their concerns and demands. The experience in Cox’s Bazar made me understand the Rohingya issue involved complicated dimensions of history, ethnicity and religion, and negotiation between Bangladesh and Myanmar is the only way forward.
Besides being a mediator, China also provides humanitarian aid. The Chinese government has given 2000 tents, 3000 blankets and 20 million RMB worth of rice to Bangladesh and donated to UNHCR to help the displaced people. Especially, a Chinese medical expert team was sent to Cox’s Bazar in October 2019, to improve the healthcare there.
The Ambassador recalled the Father of Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the celebration of Bangladesh’s 50th anniversary on behalf of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Bangladesh and in his own name, I would like to extend my sincere congratulations and best wishes to the Bangladeshi government and people on this important occasion, he added.
The Ambassador further stated that fifty years ago, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman founded the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Since then, Bangladesh has made remarkable achievements and great success in national construction and social development. Five decades after, Bangladesh has become one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, being considered as a “powerhouse” in South Asia as well as a role-model for all other developing countries. In February 2021, Bangladesh stepped onto a new journey as it qualified to graduate from the Least Developed Countries. Bangladesh has uplifted itself from a low-income country to a lower-middle income country, and is now marching toward the goal of a higher middle-income. Bangladesh has also made marvelous progress in various fields, such as industry, agriculture, infrastructure and food security, education, health care, poverty reduction, climate change, etc. Such outstanding development achievements and the vastly improved living standards of people are a blessing to both Bangladesh and the world. As a friendly neighbor, we are truly glad. I fully believe that, under the strong leadership of the Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh would achieve even greater success in the near future, and become a developed country by 2041.
Finally, the Ambassador touched upon the city of Dhaka where he lives in.
“If you ask me about my impression of Dhaka, I would like to say three words, enthusiasm, friendliness and vitality,” the Ambassador said and added that “I was born in Yunnan Province, and it takes only two hours to fly here. I still remember the first day when I arrived in Dhaka as Ambassador of China in August 2019, many new Bangladeshi friends greeted me in the airport. I could feel their enthusiasm and warmth in heart just as the weather in Dhaka.
The Ambassador reiterated that “Bangladeshi people are very friendly. I have made a lot of friends over the past two years. I always instruct my colleagues that all our works should follow the principle of building a good and friendly bridge between our two countries and peoples. ‘Wealth is not a friend, but a friend is wealth’, China is willing to work with Bangladesh in political, economic, military cultural and many other areas. Bangladesh has been the fastest economic growth in recent years. One third of its population is young people, and everyone is full of energy and dreams. This city and this country embrace infinite possibilities.”