China calls for starting Rohingya repatriation soon

Bangladesh foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen meets Chinese vice minister for foreign affairs Sun WeidongProthom Alo

The long-drawn-out Rohingya crisis poses a threat to the security and stability of the region, beside Bangladesh and Myanmar. Therefore, China considers it necessary to begin the repatriation process as soon as possible. China suggested that Bangladesh start the repatriation process albeit on a limited scale citing it would assist Bangladesh and Myanmar in this regard.

According to diplomatic sources, China's vice minister for foreign affairs Sun Weidong put forward the proposal at the foreign secretary-level meeting in Dhaka on Saturday. The meeting was held at the state guest house Padma.

Sources from the meeting said, foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen and Chinese vice minister Sun Weidong had a two-hour meeting from 10:00 am on Saturday. The two parties in the first talks prior to the delegation level meeting discussed various issues such as immediate Rohingya repatriation under a pilot project, prime minister Sheikh Hasina's proposed visit to China and Bangladesh's Indo-Pacific Outlook (IPO). After that, the officials of the two countries discussed other bilateral and regional issues including Global Development Index (GDI), trade, infrastructure development, energy, connectivity and security cooperation in the delegation meeting.

Sun Weidong arrived in Dhaka on Friday night to participate in the foreign secretary level meeting. He will meet with prime minister Sheikh Hasina and foreign minister AK Abdul Momen on Sunday.

Rohingya repatriation

China has been stressing on starting Rohingya repatriation under the pilot project since the beginning of the year. China's special envoy for Myanmar, Deng Xijun, visited Dhaka last month and held discussions with foreign minister AK Abdul Momen and foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen over Rohingya repatriation. A tripartite meeting on the repatriation of Rohingya was held in Kunming, China on 18 April.

A decision to start the repatriation of 1176 Rohingyas under the pilot project within May was made in the meeting. Following that meeting, a delegation of Rohingya visited Rakhine on 5 May. Then on 25 May, a Myanmar delegation visited Cox's Bazar to talk to the Rohingyas living in Bangladesh.

According to diplomatic sources, in the meeting on Saturday, China urged that Rohingya repatriation start quickly for the sake of stability in the region. It was mentioned in the meeting that Myanmar is now willing to start repatriation.

According to China's vice minister Sun Weidong, the negotiation process of the three countries (Bangladesh, China and Myanmar) should continue in order to resolve the issue. It is of utmost importance to start the repatriation regardless of how many Rohingyas are to be sent. In the meeting, Bangladesh made it clear that voluntary, safe and sustainable repatriation should be ensured.

PM's visit to Beijing

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina last visited China in 2019. No top-level visits have been exchanged between the two countries in the last four years. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina went on a bilateral visit to Japan last month. She will visit India next September to attend the G-20 summit. She is scheduled to meet with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at the time.

According to diplomatic sources, China wants to invite prime minister Sheikh Hasina in the last week of September. However, Bangladesh informed that prime minister Sheikh Hasina will attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session in September in yesterday's meeting. She will not be able to visit China at that time due to that. It was informed by China that they will discuss this matter and inform about the decision later.

Bangladesh's inclusion in GDI

The then foreign minister of China, Wang Yi, came to Dhaka and requested Bangladesh to join president Xi Jinping's Global Development Initiative (GDI) in august last year.

Later, China sent a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to include Bangladesh in the GDI, underscoring eight areas including health, climate change and disaster management, communication infrastructure development and digital economy. Bangladesh discussed the draft with the relevant parties. It offered some proposals to China regarding the draft.

According to diplomatic sources, China's vice minister Sun Weidong requested Bangladesh to join the GDI in yesterday's meeting. Earlier, the foreign secretary said in the meeting that Bangladesh is deliberating on China's proposal.

Decisions on three fresh negotiation procedures

According to informed sources, the two sides also agreed in principle to start consular dialogue to resolve the visa issue between Bangladesh and China, public security dialogue to increase security cooperation and staff-level discussions between the defence forces in Saturday’s meeting.

Both sides also agreed to resolve unresolved issues in some power and communication projects. Apart from this, China has said it will not invest in any kind of coal projects abroad in the future.

Emphasis on bilateral relations

According to Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang, Sun Weidong has come to Bangladesh on his first foreign visit after assuming office as the country's vice minister for foreign affairs.

A source told Prothom Alo, Sun Weidong said that relations with Bangladesh is of special importance to China. The visit of Qin Gang and Sun Weidong resonates with that. Both of them visited Bangladesh for the first time after taking office.

Sun Weidong is the third senior Chinese official to visit Bangladesh this year after Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang and China's special envoy for Myanmar, Deng Xijun.

A professional diplomat and member of the Chinese Communist Party, Sun Weidong is known as an expert on South Asia as he served as ambassador to India and Pakistan. His visit to Dhaka comes at a time when the US has announced a new visa policy or restrictions on Bangladesh to ensure a fair election process.

Informed sources refused to comment on whether the meeting discussed politics of Bangladesh, the role of the United States and geopolitics. However, the agenda of the meeting included the issue of the Indo-Pacific strategy.