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'Padma Bridge' in Bangladesh
'Padma Bridge' in Bangladesh

Bangladesh protests as China attempts to steal credit for Padma Bridge

ANI | Updated: Jul 08, 2022 19:21 IST

Dhaka [Bangladesh], July 8 (ANI): In the run-up to the inauguration of the bridge over the river Padma, Bangladesh has protested vehemently against an attempt by China to steal credit for its construction.
Scrutiny would reveal that the reason for this most ridiculous behaviour on the part of the Chinese envoy in Dhaka is the anxiety in Beijing that its Belt and Road Initiative is losing steam.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs categorically asserts that the Padma Multipurpose Bridge has been entirely funded by the Government of Bangladesh and no foreign funds from any bilateral or multilateral funding agency have financially contributed to its construction," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh said in a statement prior to the formal opening of the bridge on June 25, by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
According to the Daily Star Bangladesh, the Foreign Ministry came up with this press statement after noticing that some quarters were trying to portray that the Padma Multipurpose Bridge had been constructed under the Chinese BRI and foreign funds.
Three days before the scheduled inauguration of the bridge, on June 22, a panel discussion was planned under the aegis of the Bangladesh China Silk Road Forum, a front organisation of BRI, under the title: 'The Padma Bridge: An example of Bangladesh-China cooperation under the BRI'.
Ambassador of China in Dhaka Li Jiming was invited as the chief guest. An angry Dhaka conveyed its displeasure to the Chinese embassy at the attempt to link the bridge with the BRI. It was clarified that the Bangladesh government had paid for the entire cost of the construction.
Both Bangladeshi and foreign construction firms were involved in the construction of the bridge. The technology of 20 foreign construction firms was involved in the construction of the bridge; besides Chinese, Indian, American, British, German, Japanese and Taiwanese firms were also involved. Because of the uproar, the ambassador of China had to abandon his plan to attend the panel discussion, which was cancelled.
Beijing's anxiety is understandable as Dhaka has refused to swallow some of the major BRI projects, wary of the heavy-handedness of China and anxious not to fall into a debt trap.
Dhaka is cautious of the geopolitical dependency that goes with participation in BRI projects. Bangladesh has not allowed Chinese investments in deep-sea ports which can be suitable for the future presence of the Chinese navy.
Dhaka has cancelled the Sonadia deep-sea project and agreed only to a port project at Payra, "approachable only through a 75-km long canal and a very unlikely place for a naval base."
There have been other hurdles too, like clashes with the local people at these project sites. At the Payra power plant, there have been major clashes between local workers and Chinese expatriates. Coal-based projects have been withdrawn, ostensibly for environmental concerns but because of protests from local people.
China's attempt to browbeat Bangladesh and meddle in its internal affairs, asking Dhaka not to engage with India and Western powers, has not gone down well with the Sheikh Hasina government.
Not only Bangladesh, but the BRI projects have also hit other countries in South Asia hard, revealing the exploitative nature of the BRI. The worst-case scenario is that of Sri Lanka where BRI projects have landed the island nation in a situation of economic meltdown, forcing the Prime Minister of the country Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign.
Protestors in Sri Lanka are now identifying the Chinese BRI projects as responsible for the crippling debt problems of Colombo.
The Hambantota Port which is now under Chinese control with a lease for 99 years had cost Sri Lanka USD 1.4 billion in Chinese loans but the port lost USD 300 million in six years. An airport built in the same area with a USD 200 million loan from China had found it difficult to meet its own power bill. A conference room was built in Hambantota at a cost of USD 15 million but hardly used; all instances of bad investment in failed infrastructure projects.
The suspicion is on the rise in countries which have signed BRI agreements with Beijing that they are actually a debt trap; instead of being a purely economic construct to enhance international cooperation. BRI projects are a geopolitical tool to increase China's global strategic influence.
Even African countries like Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia are critical of the BRI projects now. There are increasing instances of African countries cancelling or postponing BRI projects, concerned about indebtedness.

The indifferent attitude of Beijing towards the economic crisis faced by Sri Lanka has further queered the pitch for BRI projects. Beijing has been niggardly in offering assistance to Sri Lanka in its hour of crisis, and has turned down Colombo's requests to roll over loans under BRI.
Behaving like a classical exploitative money-lender whom Marxists prefer to abhor, Beijing is worried that if it agrees to debt restructuring in Sri Lanka it will set a bad precedent for its investments elsewhere in the world where similar crises are in the making.
CNBC has quoted a senior fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore Ganeshan Wignaraja that the mandarins in Beijing are also worried that any concession in terms of BRI would associate China with failure; as Beijing had thrust on Colombo its own economic model.
In the process, however, Beijing has started losing its influence in Sri Lanka and its ultimate goal of spreading strategic influence in the Indian Ocean region may end up as a pipe-dream.
The foreign exchange crisis facing Colombo is of such magnitude that the new Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe has recently announced in Parliament that Colombo will need $5 billion to ensure that the daily lives of the people are not disrupted for the next six months.
Now it seems Sri Lanka has little option but to turn to the International Monetary Fund for help. In April 2022, the earlier Mahinda Rajapaksa government had to announce that it was suspending foreign debt repayment amounting to nearly USD 7 billion, out of the total due of USD 26 billion till 2026.
Sri Lankan analysts have said that Colombo is caught in a "strategic trap," which is an extension of the debt trap; involving human rights, political and security aspects.
China shields Sri Lanka from criticisms of its human rights record at the United Nations and backs an authoritarian, heavily militarised form of government over democracy.
"The quantitative economic projection of debt trap falls short in capturing the strategic depth of Chinese projects," analyst Asanga Abeyagoonasekera has been quoted by news agency ANI.
"The Chinese have carried out strategic trap diplomacy on Sri Lanka, more dangerous than debt-trap diplomacy," writes Abeyagoonasekera in the Institute for Security and Development Policy.
"As much as 70 per cent of the island's infrastructure projects are constructed by China from its commercial borrowings at a higher percentage with opaqueness. China accounts for USD 3.38 billion of foreign debt in Sri Lanka. China has said it would provide a USD 1 billion loan to Sri Lanka, rejecting its restructuring request. The funds will be utilised to settle previous loans from Chinese banks. The interest rate of these loans is unclear to the public, usually around 3.76 per cent, compared to OECD's 1.1 per cent."
According to a Reuters report of May 2, China has USD 6.5 billion in loans to Sri Lanka and Beijing has advised Colombo to work with the International Monetary Fund to restructure its debt; a supreme irony, China asking Sri Lanka to approach Washington-based IMF for succour.
Pakistan, which is the largest recipient of BRI loans in Asia, is also in the midst of a debt crisis, but Beijing, the 'all-weather ally' of Islamabad, has made special provisions.
According to a PTI report of June 28: "China has again rushed to bail out Pakistan by providing USD 2.3 billion in assistance to prop up the fast-depleting foreign exchange reserves of its cash-strapped all-weather ally, months after it rolled over a USD 4.5 billion loan due to be paid this year."
Despite Beijing bending over backwards to bail out Islamabad from a tight corner, the common people of Pakistan who have seen through the real nature of the BRI projects are not convinced of the Chinese intentions.
In the wake of the recent spate of terror attacks on Chinese workers and assets in Pakistan, Beijing had wanted its own security forces to protect Chinese workers and interests in Pakistan.
Islamabad, however, did not accede to Beijing's request. Pakistan has raised a separate military force to protect Chinese workers, but Beijing is anxious about the recurring attacks on Chinese workers.
These attacks have been concentrated against Chinese workers engaged in scores of projects under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, the flagship BRI project in Pakistan. The latest of these attacks was in April 2022 when a woman suicide bomber killed three Chinese nationals near Karachi University. (ANI)