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China's South Asia push to get boost during Prez Xi’s visit

world Updated: Oct 11, 2016 01:23 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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China’s President Xi Jinping will fly out of Cambodia for Bangladesh on October 14. (Reuters File Photo)

China’s strategic interests in South Asia will be on President Xi Jinping’s mind when he flies out of Cambodia and lands in Bangladesh on October 14 – the first Communist Party of China (CPC) chief and head of state to visit the country in 30 years.

Assistant foreign minister Kong Xuanyou couldn’t stop gushing about the importance of Xi’s trip to Dhaka when he met reporters on Monday morning to talk about the president’s visit to Cambodia, Bangladesh and India beginning October 13.

Kong repeatedly stressed Bangladesh’s role in Xi’s dream project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to connect China to Eurasia through intricate and ambitious infrastructure projects over land and sea.

Xi’s South Asian sojourn will not end in Dhaka. He flies to Goa on the morning of October 15 for the two-day BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) Summit.

He is slated to meet Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” on the sidelines. Both have been invited to Goa as leaders of countries in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). The grouping also includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Thailand.

Xi’s meeting with Prachanda will be keenly followed as the Chinese President’s visit to Nepal this month was abruptly cancelled in September without any reasons being given.

The initial focus will be on Xi’s visit to Bangladesh, where he is expected to sign a number of deals.

“China always values relations with Bangladesh. We see an important cooperation partner in South Asia and Indian Ocean region,” Kong said – words India will follow closely.

“We are ready to work with Bangladesh to promote building of Belt and Road so that it brings more benefit to our people,” he added. “(The visit) will be a milestone in China-Bangladesh relations. It is also a major diplomatic endeavour of President Xi after visits to India, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in 2014 and 2015.”

Kong said, “China and Bangladesh are traditionally friendly and close neighbours. In the past 41 years, the relationship has moved forward steadily, maintained momentum of high-level exchanges, and economic cooperation and trade have been deepened.”

China’s all-weather ally Pakistan will not be present in Goa. Chinese officials, when asked about Pakistan’s absence, tackled the matter deftly.

Referring to the BIMSTEC meet, vice foreign minister Li Baodong said the talks with non-BRICS countries on the margins of the summit shows that the leaders of the five countries are “ready to have dialogue and communicate with other parties”.

“Such dialogue is a transparent and inclusive process not targeted at any third country. It is not grooming cliques to exclude any particular country and such dialogue is an inclusive one,” Li added.

For the time being, Pakistan will have to be happy with that.