India our biggest friend, but Indian media comments not okay: Bangladesh foreign minister

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Bangladesh foreign minister, AK Abdul Momen, said on Tuesday that India is Bangladesh’s biggest friend, as he expressed hope that the border tensions between India and China will be solved diplomatically.

“Bangladesh is the pioneer of peace. Dhaka is always for peaceful coexistence with neighbours. We believe on solution by discussing each and every problem, as we achieved lots with Indo-Bangla mutual discussions through understanding on both sides,” Momen said in an exclusive interview with IANS.

“India is our biggest friend indeed from our liberation war days... India-China, both are our good friends and close neighbours. Both are our development partners,” he said.

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However, the minister ruled out any role of his country in the dispute.

“I don’t think Bangladesh needs to interfere in resolving the long-standing issues between India and China. New Delhi and Beijing have shown commitment to a peaceful resolution. They started meetings at the level of defence officers and foreign ministers... We hope for a diplomatic solution,” he said.

The minister extended deepest condolences for the lives lost as a result of the recent confrontation between Indian and Chinese soldiers.

About Indian commentators and the news published in the Bengali daily Anandabazar Patrika which caused a social media uproar, Abdul Momen said: “Who described the zero-tariff bilateral agreement for 97 per cent of exports to China as ‘charity’ for ‘least developed’ Bangladesh... for this, many are disappointed. This word (‘Khoyraati’/charity) is not acceptable to me, I said on Sunday.”

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However, he welcomed the paper’s apology.

“Anandabazar has apologised unconditionally by admitting its mistake today, that’s good. Lots of thanks to them from my side for their realisation. Hope they also realize that India is a very good friend of Bangladesh.

“Many had said to protest officially, but I refused. Because, it does not reflect the real scenario at all. That’s why we don’t think there is a need to protest (officially) on these news reports,” he told IANS.

Anandabazar Patrika, a Kolkata-based Bengali daily, on Tuesday apologised for stating that the zero-tariff bilateral agreement for 97 per cent of exports to China was “charity” for Bangladesh.

On the fourth page of Tuesday’s print version, it admitted its mistake and apologised unconditionally.

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On 20 June, in a report titled “Beijing taking Dhaka to its side after Ladakh”, Anandabazar wrote: “China’s recent decision of providing 5,161 Bangladeshi products duty-free access after the clash with India is for ‘charity’ purpose.”

The Indian media claimed that China has given such a duty-free export opportunity to Bangladesh only to put pressure on India. Several Indian media outlets, including Anandabazar, mocked it as a “charitable” act.

This was the second response from the minister in two days after certain Indian news publications alleged that “China used the agreement to get Bangladesh on its side as tension with India simmers along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) near Ladakh”.

Abdul Momen said he was quoted wrongly by some media on Sunday.

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Bangladesh media reports on Sunday reported that the foreign minister said that the representation of Bangladesh in a demeaning manner in certain sections of Indian media was “not welcome”. He indicated that Dhaka took serious note of the negative reports of Indian media about Bangladesh and said, “It appears that they (the government) are very upset.”

The minister told IANS that “we are so happy that the Indian government said nothing about the agreement with China. We are thankful to India”.

He also said that India will have also economic benefits through the bilateral agreement with China. If Bangladesh is developed, India will get the benefit, he said.

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However, the foreign minister also admitted that Bangladesh-China trade balance is “imbalanced”, the same as Indo-Bangladesh trade. “We export to India only one billion dollars of products, but import huge in multiple billion dollars product. At the same time, Bangladesh imports huge from China, exports less.”

On the impact of COVID-19, he said: “It is a big shake for our economy in this pandemic... our major export is RMG sector and remittance also in crisis. We are urging all neighbouring countries to be our development partners... it will help us to overcome the challenge of the pandemic period. We are very grateful to China they have moved on with Bangladesh in this crucial period, which we tried for long time. Hope India also will come forward.”

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